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Although set in the 1930s, Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust ironically resembles contemporary Hollywood. Within the glamorous setting of Hollywood, West’s characters take on multiple roles instead of assuming individual personalities. They put on and remove these imaginary personality masks, similar to those in the Commedia dell’Arte, to exhibit a range of emotions that only their character type would exhibit. Consequently, West’s characters are trapped in this restrictive atmosphere, especially at the end of the novel when they become part of a collective mob. In these manners, the characters in The Day of the Locust exhibit qualities akin to modern actors, proving that they are nothing more than a cast of personages rather than individuals.
Hollywood is not simply a point on a map; it is a representation of the human experience. As with any other location, though, Hollywood’s history can be traced and analyzed up to present day. In 1887, Harvey Henderson Wilcox established a 120-acre ranch in an area northwest of Los Angeles, naming it “Hollywood” (Basinger 15). From then on, Hollywood grew from one man’s family to over 5,000 people in 1910. By then, residents around the ranch incorporated it as a municipality, using the name Hollywood for their village. While they voted to become part of the Los Angeles district, their village was also attracting motion-picture companies drawn in by the diverse geography of the mountains and oceanside (15). The Los Angeles area continues to flourish, now containing over nine million people, an overwhelming statistic compared to Wilcox’s original, family unit (U.S. Census Bureau 1). However, these facts only s...
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...ic category. Instead, they have the freedom to shift between different roles and characters. In West’s The Day of the Locust, the characters exhibit traits most closely linked to these new types of Hollywood actors. Although he introduces them as types, he develops them throughout the novel with variable personalities. Todd’s emotions, for example, towards Faye range from sweetly romantic to vindictively dangerous. Yet, these variable personalities do not prove individuality, as the characters can all be labeled as characters, just like all actors are just actors at the end of every movie no matter what role they play. Unfortunately, West’s characters can never escape their fixed roles and established places in the narrative despite how often they attempt to change. They are forever stuck as modern actors in a 1930s Hollywood setting, and therein lies their tragedy.
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