Day of the Locust
Chris Phillips Professor Kirkpatrick English 1C March 31, 2010 Hollywood Illusions In The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, illusion verse reality is one of the main themes of the novel. Hollywood is known for it’s acting, but the town and everyone that inhibit it seem to get carried away with trying to be something they aren’t. Nothing is really indigenous in Hollywood and everything is borrowed from another place. The houses have been designed to look like Irish cottages, Spanish villas, or Southern plantations while the characters often imagine themselves as someone other than who they really are.
Tod states, “The fat lady in the yachting cap was going shopping, not boating; the man in the Norfolk jacket and Tyrolean hat was returning, not from a mountain, but an insurance office; and the girl in slacks and sneaks with a bandana around her head had just left a switchboard, not a tennis court” (60). West shows us that Hollywood is filled with fantasies and dreams rather than reality, which can best be seen through characters such as Harry and Faye Greener. Harry acts as if he has had a long and successful career as a star, when in reality he is just a washed up clown. Harry’s clowning act is used to sell his shoe polish.
Harry knows that no one really wants to buy his shoe polish but he thinks that he is still a great actor and also realizes that people won’t go out of their way to punish a clown. But clowning becomes compulsive because he acts in his everyday life. Harry is so caught up in his illusion that it ends up killing him. He becomes really sick but can only think and respond in terms of performance. While playing faint, he shockingly discovers that he really is faint. Having role-played so much, he can no longer tell when he is acting pain and feeling pain, pretending suffering and really suffering.
Though Harry’s illness is real, he continues to put on his act. After offering Harry some water Tod states, “Harry framed the word ‘no’ with his lips, then groaned skillfully. It was a second-act curtain groan, so phony that Tod had to hide a smile. And yet the old man’s pallor hadn’t come from a box” (119). The only way Harry knows to express suffering is by exaggeratedly pretending it. Tod was often at the Greener’s house to help the sick man, but it was hard to distinguish how in pain the old man really was.
It seemed like another one of his clown acts, where being in pain is what made the act so funny. Even as Harry is dying, he wonders to himself whether he was acting or actually sick. Like her dad Faye is caught up in the dreams and fantasies of Hollywood. Faye thinks she’s a big time movie star when in fact she has only been an extra with a short part in a movie. She even believes she is too good for guys like Tod and can only be with someone who is rich and handsome. Faye is the center of obsessional sexual fantasies of all the males in the novel.
She is an unloving woman and provides Tod with many sexual and violent fantasies. Tod begins to realize that Faye’s main goal is to lead men on with her performances. Faye’s sexual gestures became more of a formal greeting that she used very often. Her secret smiles and the way she acted were used to get whatever she wanted. She never fooled anyone though, but it was alright with them. West writes, “His interest in her grew despite the things she said and he continued to find her very exciting. Had any other girl been so affected, he would have thought her intolerable.
Faye’s affectations, however, were so completely artificial that he found them charming. Being with her was like being backstage during an amateurish, ridiculous play” (103). They were perfectly content watching what seemed like an amateur show, just by being with her. Even when Harry dies, Faye, who has been treating him meanly, decides to act like the devoted daughter. She provides a proper funeral and decides to become a call girl for Mrs. Jenning’s in order to pay for it. Everything from the people to the town itself seems to be fake and not what everyone expects when they think of Hollywood.
West’s theme of illusion verse reality is shown with Faye always bouncing free to continue in her fantasies, or Harry not knowing what he feels because clownishly playing his disguised self, the Greeners show that for compulsive masqueraders little authentic life is possible. Faye and Harry make the audience sympathetic for them. They just seem so pathetic at times that it’s hard to not feel bad for them. Tod, Homer and many of Faye’s other suitors, went along with her poor acting because she was beautiful yet pathetic. West says, “Raging at him, she was still beautiful.
That was because her beauty was structural like a tree’s, not a quality of her mind or heart” (126). They all loved her for what they saw on the outside, not her stuck up ways and wild stories. For all of the characters in West’s novel, they are acting on an every day basis without even realizing it. Harry acts in pain to get attention. He pretends to need help from sympathetic people and then he tells them the crazy stories of when he was “famous. ” His illusions are then backed up by his strong beliefs that he really was a good actor.
If we look at Faye we see how she also has a very strong and misconstrued idea of reality. She believes she will one day be famous and in her everyday life, she acts like she already is. She bosses the men around, has to be the center of attention, and uses people to pay for her and get her ahead. Her daily acting and stage acting has become almost the same, as she makes everything dramatic. All of Hollywood is her stage as she acts out her life. Faye does a little better then her father when it comes to acting because she uses her beauty to get ahead. Her beauty helps the men forget how delusional she is when she speaks.
Harry has nothing to use to his advantage except being old, and being Faye’s father, which gives him the company of Faye’s suitors. Faye’s suitors help Harry and listen to his nonsense just so they can be close to Faye. The Greener’s are so confused in their ideas of illusion versus reality that they will never get anywhere close to their dreams. Harry died the clown he always was, while Faye ended up stuck in her fantasies. Neither got what they wanted or expected from Hollywood. The city that was supposed to make all their dreams come true failed. The Greener’s showed us very clearly the line between illusion and reality.
Throughout the novel we saw Harry and Faye act their way through their life. Everyone around them was just a part of the play. Tod and Homer had front and center seats to see the Greeners perform. The performance was sad but amusing for the audience. In the end, the play didn’t have a happy ending for anyone but the ride along the way proved to be full of surprises, pain, disappointment, and challenges. Faye and Harry although unsuccessful during their time in Hollywood showed everyone the problems with never facing reality. The truth of reality would have hurt them.
If they saw just as everyone else did, that they were the “have-nots” in society, they might have changed. Instead Tod was the only one in the novel who changed. His change can be attributed to the Greeners and their acting. Through them, Tod finally felt sympathy and became a better person. Faye and Harry were constant throughout The Day of the Locust, which led them to despair. The Greener’s constant masquerading eventually became the fall of them, leading to reality. Work Cited West, Nathanael. Miss Lonelyhearts & the Day of the Locust. New York: New Directions Book, 2009. Print.
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