This Day In Literary History
On May 16th, 1939, The Day of the Locust, the classic final novel by the famous American writer Nathanael West was published.
Although he never achieved significant commercial success as a novelist during his short life, today he is recognized as one of the greatest American novelists of the 1930s, and rightfully so.
West, born Nathan Weinstein in New York City, like many fiction writers of the 1930s, worked as a Hollywood screenwriter. He had made a name for himself as a novelist with his dark, surreal tales of Depression-era America, such as Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) and A Cool Million (1934).
In 1939, the year that The Day of the Locust was published, the stifling Production Code was in effect in Hollywood, and movies were considered clean, wholesome entertainment. In West's classic novel, he explores the dark side of the Dream Factory.
The characters include Tod Hackett, a talented young artist who has come to Hollywood to work as a set painter. He does this to support himself until he becomes a famous artist. Faye Greener is a beautiful young aspiring actress.
Faye's father, Harry Greener, is an aging, failed actor and former vaudeville comic who earns a meager living as a door to door salesman. Despite all the doors slammed in his face, Harry, the ultimate huckster, pushes on, oblivious to the effects of his job on his frail health.
Homer Simpson (yes, that's really his name) is a good natured oaf who's not very bright. Also a neurotic depressive, he has come to California for reasons of health. The poor, pathetic Simpson will become the most tragic character in this dark and grotesque story.
Other memorable characters include Abe Kusich, a conceited midget actor with a huge chip on his little shoulder, and Adore Loomis, an obnoxious eight-year-old aspiring child star with a talent for blues singing.
Adore's mother - the ultimate stage mother - is so ruthlessly ambitious (and demented) that she passes him off as a girl, hoping that he'll become the next Shirley Temple.
The price of stardom - the depths one would sink to in Hollywood in order to reach the height of success - is one of the main themes of the novel. Another theme is the garishness of excess.
One film producer keeps a lifelike, life sized dead horse made of rubber on the bottom of his swimming pool. Mrs. Jenning, a retired silent film star, runs a brothel, where she also screens pornographic films for her guests.
Faye Greener is the catalyst for the tragic undercurrent of the story that drives it to a shocking and brutal conclusion. She's a thoroughly amoral young woman, a manipulative sociopath willing to do anything and use anyone to get what she wants.
Of course, Tod ends up falling in love with her, but grudgingly settles for friendship, recognizing her amoral nature. He fantasizes about raping Faye or physically harming her in other ways as both a subconscious attack on her immorality and an attempt to suppress his secret desire to be just like her.
Homer Simpson also falls in love with Faye, but unlike the more realistic Tod, the poor, deluded Homer actually dreams of marrying Faye, settling down, and starting a family with her.
When he accidentally discovers Faye having casual sex with a would-be actor called Miguel the Mexican, his delusion is suddenly shattered. Homer decides to return to his Iowa hometown, but never does.
In the novel's violent, surreal ending, Homer wanders the streets in a state of shock and happens upon a crowd gathering outside a theater for a major movie premiere. While he stares blankly at the crowd, Adore Loomis appears and teases him yet again.
Homer's mind finally snaps, and in the novel's most shocking scene, he literally stomps the child to death. When the crowd sees Homer attacking Adore, they riot and descend on him like a plague of locusts, killing him.Tod tries to save Homer, but gets lost in the milling throng.
The Day of the Locust received mixed reviews when it was published. It is now recognized as Nathanael West's greatest novel. Sadly, it would be his last. The year after it was published, West and his wife Eileen were killed in a car accident. He was 37 years old.
The Day of the Locust was adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1975. Directed by John Schlesinger with a screenplay by Waldo Salt, the film starred William Atherton as Tod Hackett, Donald Sutherland as Homer Simpson, and Karen Black as Faye Greener.
Burgess Meredith co-starred as Harry Greener, Billy Barty as Abe Kusich, and in a memorable supporting performance, Jackie Earle Haley as Adore Loomis.
Quote Of The Day
"Man spends a great deal of time making order out of chaos, yet insists that the emotions be disordered. I order my emotions. I am insane." - Nathanael West
Today's video features the original theatrical trailer for the acclaimed feature film adaptation of Nathanael West's classic novel, The Day of the Locust. Enjoy!