Failure in Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust Essay

Failure in Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust Essay

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In Nathanael West’s “The Day of the Locust,” multiple characters are introduced within Hollywood, California, which is widely regarded as the national capital of the film industry. One main character focused on throughout the novel is Tod Hackett, who West portrays as being superior to the fantasy observed around him. Many of the characters have traveled to Hollywood in pursuit of a personal, ambitious goal. However, there is a reoccurring theme of failure in their pursuits due to the fictitious personalities and actions they have created for themselves influenced by a setting full of artificialness.
The atmosphere of the film industry in Hollywood, California is a large influence throughout the novel with its emphasis on fabrication. When Tod Hackett heads home after a long day of work as a set designer, he tends to gaze at his surroundings. In one particular passage in the novel, he intensely observes the houses that lie on the canyon near his home: “But not even the soft wash of dusk could help the houses. Only dynamite would be of any use against the Mexican ranch houses, Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas, Egyptian and Japanese temples, Swiss chalets, Tudor cottages, and every possible combination of these styles that lined the slopes of the canyon” (61). These works of architecture are designed to represent the diverse architectural work of cultures from around the world. However, side by side of one another, the houses are rather imitations of the cultures they represent, made of paper and plaster. Similar to the characters of the novel, the houses are trying to replicate something they are not. They are there to represent fantasy through its superficial features and garner admiration, something Tod notices and reacts with...


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...and displayed uncharacteristic actions. In doing so, they distanced themselves farther away from their goals, resulting in the failure of their pursuits. Homer Simpson ultimately leads himself into an unstable mental state and has seemingly become a lifeless figure. Faye Greener becomes widely known for her sexual appearance and intimacy, attracting lust instead of her acting talents. In general, many of the citizens of Hollywood are in similar situations. The end of the novel portrays a gathering of people disappointed with their own pursuits. They are waiting to see actors of a recent film. They look to the actors, their source for inspiration, to fulfill their need for excitement since they can no longer build excitement themselves. The slightest tension sets off the crowd, who are frustrated and unsatisfied with how their lives have come to be, and chaos arises.

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