The Day of the Locust

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The Day of the Locust
West locust.jpg
1939 first edition cover
AuthorNathaniel West
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreNovel
PublisherRandom House
Publication date
May 16, 1939
Media typePrint (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages238 pp
ISBN978-0-451-52348-8
OCLC22865781
 
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The Day of the Locust
West locust.jpg
1939 first edition cover
AuthorNathaniel West
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreNovel
PublisherRandom House
Publication date
May 16, 1939
Media typePrint (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages238 pp
ISBN978-0-451-52348-8
OCLC22865781

The Day of the Locust is a 1939 novel by American author Nathanael West, set in Hollywood, California, during the Great Depression. Its themes deal with the alienation and desperation of a broad group of odd individuals who exist at the fringes of the Hollywood movie industry.

In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Day of the Locust #73 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Time magazine included the novel in its list of 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005,[1] and noted critic Harold Bloom included it in his list of canonical works in the book The Western Canon. The novel was adapted into a critically acclaimed film of the same name in 1975 by director John Schlesinger.

Plot summary[edit]

The book follows a young man named Tod Hackett who thinks of himself as a painter and artist, but who works in Hollywood as a costume designer and background painter. He falls in love with Faye Greener, an aspiring starlet who lives nearby. Between his work in the studio and his introduction to Faye's friends, he is soon interacting with numerous Hollywood hangers-on, including a cowboy who lives in the hills above the studios and works as an extra in cowboy movies, his Mexican friend who keeps fighting cocks, and Homer Simpson, a lonely businessman exploited by Faye. The book ends with a riot at a movie premiere.

Themes[edit]

The characters are outcasts, who have come to Hollywood to fulfill a dream or wish: "The importance of the wish in West's work was first noted by W. H. Auden, who declared (in one of the interludes in The Dyer's Hand) that West's novels were essentially "parables about a Kingdom of Hell whose ruler is not so much a Father of Lies as a Father of Wishes".[2] In this respect, James Light, in his book "Violence, Dreams, and Dostoevsky: The Art of Nathanael West", suggests that The Day of the Locust falls in with a motif in West's fiction; the exposure of hopeful narratives in modern American culture as frauds.[3]

As some critics point out, West's novel was a radical challenge to modernist literature. Modernists set themselves up in opposition to mass culture; West depicts it and makes it an integral part of the novel.[4] West's use of grotesque imagery and situations establishes the novel as a work of Juvenalian satire. His critique of Hollywood and the mentality of "the masses", depicts an America sick with vanity and the harbor of a malignant sense of perversity.

Biblical allusions[edit]

The original title of the novel was The Cheated.[5] The title of West's work may be a biblical allusion to the Old Testament. Susan Sanderson writes:

The most famous literary or historical reference to locusts is in the Book of Exodus in the Bible, in which God sends a plague of locusts to the pharaoh of Egypt as retribution for refusing to free the enslaved Jews. Millions of locusts swarm over the lush fields of Egypt, destroying its food supplies. Destructive locusts also appear in the New Testament in the symbolic and apocalyptic book of Revelation.

West's use of "locust" in his title evokes images of destruction and a land stripped bare of anything green and living. The novel is filled with images of destruction: Tod Hackett's painting entitled "The Burning of Los Angeles," his violent fantasies about Faye and the bloody result of the cockfight. A close examination of West's characters and his selective use of natural images, which include representations of violence and impotence — and which are therefore contrary to popular images linking nature and fertility — reveals that the locust in the title is Tod.[6]

Symbols and metaphors[edit]

James F. Light has suggested that West's use of mob violence in the novel was an expression of anxiety about the rise of fascism in Europe. Light also suggests that West may have written into the novel a personal anxiety about his marginal role as a Jew in America.[7]

Characters[edit]

West's characters are intentionally shallow and stereotyped and "...derive from all the B-grade genre films of the period..." (Simon, 523)[8] West's characters are Hollywood stereotypes, what Light calls "grotesques".[9] The novel's protagonist, Tod Hackett (whose first name derives from the German word for death and whose last name refers to a common epithet for Hollywood screenwriters and artists, who were pejoratively called "hacks"), is a set painter who aspires to artistic greatness. In the first chapter of the novel, the narrative voice announces: "Yes, despite his appearance, Tod was really a very complicated young man with a whole set of personalities, one inside the other like a nest of Chinese boxes. And 'The Burning of Los Angeles', a picture he was soon to paint, definitely proved he had talent."[citation needed]

We are introduced to several minor characters, each corresponding to a Hollywood trope. There is Harry Greener, the fading vaudevillian; his daughter Faye, an aspiring starlet; Claude Estee, the successful Hollywood screenwriter; Homer Simpson, the hopelessly clumsy and disaffected "everyman"; Abe Kusich, a midget gangster; Earle Shoop, the cowboy; Miguel, Shoop's Mexican sidekick; Adore Loomis, a precocious child actor; and Loomis's doting stage mother.

Adaptations[edit]

In 1975, a film of the same name based on the novel was released by Paramount Pictures and directed by John Schlesinger. The film starred William Atherton as Tod Hackett, Donald Sutherland as Homer Simpson, Burgess Meredith as Harry Greener, and Karen Black as Faye Greener.

Punchdrunk's 2013 immersive stage production entitled 'The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable' is based partly on The Day of the Locust and partly on the stage play Woyzeck written by Georg Büchner.[10]

In popular culture[edit]

Works cited[edit]

Source[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "All Time 100 Novels". Time. October 16, 2005. Retrieved May 25, 2010. 
  2. ^ Barnard, Rita. "'When You Wish Upon a Star': Fantasy, Experience, and Mass Culture in Nathanael West" American Literature, Vol. 66, No. 2 (June 1994), pgs. 325-51
  3. ^ Light, James F. "Violence, Dreams, and Dostoevsky: The Art of Nathanael West" College English, Vol. 19, No. 5 (February 1958), pgs. 208-13
  4. ^ Jacobs, The Eye's Mind: Literary modernism and visual culture, pg. 243 ff
  5. ^ Aaron, Daniel. "Review: Waiting for the Apocalypse" Hudson Review, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Winter, 1951), pp. 634-6
  6. ^ the day of the locust criticism: Web Search Results from Answers.com
  7. ^ Light, James F. "Nathanael West and the Ravaging Locust", American Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1960), pgs. 44-54
  8. ^ Simon, Richard Keller (1993). "Between Capra and Adorno: West's Day of the Locust and the Movies of the 1930s". Modern Language Quarterly 54 (4): pg. 524
  9. ^ Light, "...Ravaging Locust"
  10. ^ How Punchdrunk breathed life into The Drowned Man | Stage | The Guardian
  11. ^ Show 44 - Revolt of the Fat Angel: Some samples of the Los Angeles sound. [Part 4]: UNT Digital Library
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ Turner, Chris (2005). Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Defined a Generation (1st revised ed.). Cambridge: Da Capo Press. p. 77. ASIN 030681448X. OCLC 670978714.  ISBN 0-306-81448-X, 978-0-306-81448-8.
  15. ^ Y: THE LAST MAN: Safeword, pg. 24