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THE DAY OF THE LOCUST by Nathanael West

Hollywood is taken as a metaphor for an America that was moving from depression to war, and its fantasies outrun themselves until all that's left is anarchy. The story is seen in terms of a handful of characters that Sherwood Anderson would have described as Grotesques: otherwise mostly normal people with one attribute so out of proportion that the whole personality is disturbed. There is Homer Donald Sutherland , sexually repressed almost to the point of paralysis; and Faye Karen Black , who's so mesmerized by the vision of romance on the screen that she can hardly comprehend the notion of romance in her own real life; and Harry Burgess Meredith , who is Faye's father, an old trouper who now performs a sad parody of his vaudeville act as a door-to-door salesman.

At first, it doesn't seem that the story's narrator, Tod William Atherton , is a Grotesque at all. But in a world on the edge of anarchy, his very normality is out of line.


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Almost everyone lives in the San Bernardino Arms, a Crumbling stucco heap that looks like Southern California sick to its stomach. They're all on the edges of show business, including a furious dwarf and a truly hateful year-old child actor. They can hardly touch each other, hardly see each other, because their eyes are so firmly fixed on the movies, on fame, on escaping from their real lives.


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Tod loves Faye, for some reason, but she's unable to return the love. She has her career to think about. Its high point so far has been as a dress extra in a corny Napoleonic costume drama, and as she and we glimpse her little moment on the screen, the thought of all those hundreds of Busby Berkeley girls comes to mind.

They were all beautiful and endless and replaceable, whirling past the camera with a fixed smile and an uncertain future.


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  4. Faye also is loved, desperately and with a doglike devotion, by Homer, and Donald Sutherland's performance in this role is one of the movie's wonders. He succeeds somehow in giving us a character so totally passive that his very silences become aggressive.

    The Day of the Locust: The grim reality of old Hollywood | Hollywood Suite

    Nobody can have such a low opinion of himself and not have something dangerous boiling up inside, we think, and we're right. Out of work actors and fame-seekers would attend funerals for actors like Rudy Valentino by the thousands. The Death of Vaudeville.

    Table of contents

    Part of the reason movies exploded in the s and 30s was the relatively cheap ticket price, and vaudeville theatres around the country converted to cinemas. By the time sound came around, there was no need for spoken entertainment between the features, and with the newly inexpensive radio technology, crowds were drawn away from vaudeville.

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