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Literature / The Day of the Locust

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"It is hard to laugh at the need for beauty and romance, no matter how tasteless, even horrible, the results of that need are. But it is easy to sigh. Few things are sadder than the truly monstrous."

The Day of the Locust is a darkly satirical 1939 novel by Nathanael West that tells a story of Horrible Hollywood as seen through the eyes of Tod Hackett, a graduate of the Yale School of Fine Arts who has come to Los Angeles to work as a scenery painter while creating an ambitious painting entitled The Burning of Los Angeles in his spare time.

Tod lives upstairs from aspiring actress Faye Greener, who has the good looks for stardom but lacks the talent to even be reliably cast as an extra; Tod falls for her, but her shallow Gold Digger attitude toward romantic relationships leaves her unable to reciprocate, and his love turns to a dark obsession. Her father, Harry, is a washed-up former vaudeville clown in declining health who works as a door-to-door salesman, mostly as an outlet to keep performing in front of a captive audience. Tod's other acquaintances include the acerbic screenwriter Claude Estee, his only connection to the more glamorous side of the industry; "Honest" Abe Kusich, a little person bookmaker; Earle Shoop, a dimwitted cowboy and occasional bit part actor in Westerns; Miguel, a Mexican friend of Earle's who trains fighting cockerels; sexually repressed accountant Homer Simpson, who has come out to Los Angeles from Iowa at his doctor's advice; and androgynous Enfant Terrible Adore Loomis, whose mother is hell-bent on making him a child star but who is himself hell-bent on raising hell.

In 1975 the novel was adapted into a film that re-united the creative team of Midnight Cowboy: producer Jerome Hellman, director John Schlesinger, screenwriter Waldo Salt, and composer John Barry. Its cast includes William Atherton as Tod Hackett, Karen Black as Faye Greener, Burgess Meredith as Harry Greener, Donald Sutherland as Homer Simpson, Billy Barty as Abe Kusich, Richard Dysart as Claude Estee, and a young Jackie Earle Haley as Adore Loomis.

This novel and film contain examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the novel, Tod Hackett is described as having a "large, sprawling body" and a "doltish" appearance. In the film, he's played by the conventionally handsome William Atherton.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • Adore only appears in two chapters of the book, in one scene that establishes him as an Enfant Terrible with an abusive Stage Mom and in the final sequence when he unwittingly provokes Homer into killing him. In the film, he gets several more appearances that further establish how horrible he is (and how his mother is largely at fault for his behaviour); early on, he draws an outline of lips on Tod's window with his mother's lipstick before delivering a Mae West impersonation, and Tod later sees Maybelle angrily dragging him out of another failed audition and hitting him for not being able to cry on command, leading him to hit her in retaliation. At Harry Greener's funeral, Maybelle has to restrain Adore when the minister invites the guests who have not viewed the coffin to do so, and when he drops off Harry's suitcase and hat at Homer's house at Maybelle's request, he does a cruel impersonation of Harry's sales patter that leaves Faye a sobbing wreck.
    • Although the book skewers all manner of trendy brands of Christianity that are more about enriching the bank accounts of their leaders than enriching the souls of their followers, the sequence in which Faye and Homer take Harry to evangelist/faith healer Big Sister (played by Geraldine Page) was added for the film.
    • Faye disappears from the book after the explosion of her Love Triangle with Earle and Miguel between Chapters 23 and 24. In the film, she is part of the crowd of stargazers at the premiere of The Buccaneer, and she and Tod catch each other's eye. When the crowd begins to riot, they try to move toward each other but are swept off in opposite directions. The film also adds an epilogue scene in which Faye stops by Tod's apartment at some point after the riot and finds it completely empty except for a few chairs and the flower he put in the crack in the wall.
  • Age-Inappropriate Art: Adore Loomis is about eight years old, and yet when he first appears in Chapter 19, he performs the raunchy song "Mama Don' Wan' No Peas an' Rice an' Cocoanut Oil", complete with suggestive dance moves. In the film, he also draws an outline of lips with his mother's lipstick on Tod's back window, then knocks on the glass and does a grotesque parody of Mae West's signature line (or, rather, the Beam Me Up, Scotty! version) from She Done Him Wrong, "Why don't you come up and see me sometime?", before blowing a raspberry and running off. The movie adds Age-Inappropriate Dress, as actor Jackie Earle Haley is obviously entering puberty and yet is still dressed in a little boy's "Buster Brown" suit with rather too-tight, too-short shorts, wearing his hair in childish blond curls.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The book ends with Tod mindlessly imitating a police siren after being pulled out of the rioting crowds and stuffed into a squad car to be taken to Claude's house. The film ends on an even more ambiguous note as we last see Tod crawling across a deserted street as the rioting crowd disperses; the scene then cuts to Faye stopping by his apartment and finding it completely empty except for the flower he put in the crack in the wall. Where he went and why is not stated.
  • Asshole Victim: Adore is a repulsive, spoiled brat who enjoys tormenting people. It's hard to feel much sympathy for him when he's stomped to death by Homer after throwing a rock at his head.
  • Beastly Bloodsports: Earle and Miguel regularly hold cockfights, and Chapter 21 includes a detailed and graphic cockfighting scene which leads to a more figurative Cockfight between Faye's various admirers.
  • Billing Displacement: The film features a bizarre in-universe example. At the premiere of The Buccaneer in the film's climax, Anthony Quinn gets second billing to Fredric March as the radio announcer reads off the film's cast list. However, when The Buccaneer was made in 1938, Anthony Quinn was at the very beginning of his career,note  and his role in the film is quite minor, so he was billed seventh in the credits and was not prominently featured in publicity. By the time The Day of the Locust was filmed in 1974, Quinn had won two Oscars and been nominated for two more, so his role in the earlier film was played up.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor:
    • Nathanael West wrote the novel after having worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood for several years (his most notable screenplays include the jungle thriller Five Came Back and one of the Trope Codifiers of Film Noir, Stranger On The Third Floor); he wasn't shy about taking aim with both barrels at the seedier side of the industry that had been putting bread on his table.
    • In the novel, Tod works for the fictional National Films (West was a screenwriter for Columbia Pictures, and so the name of a national symbol became simply "National"). The film was produced by Paramount, and so Tod works for Paramount in the world of the film... a world in which the studio decides to protect itself from a lawsuit with a false claim that instead of being removed, the "DANGER - KEEP OFF" signs were simply overlooked by the cast and crew members who fell through the collapsing Waterloo set.
  • Bizarrchitecture: In Chapter 1, Tod regards the design of the typical Los Angeles building as an example of this. The houses in his neighbourhood (including his apartment building, the San Bernardino Arms) are a chaotic mishmash of imitations of Alpine, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, English Tudor, and rural Irish designs (with some houses, especially Homer's as described in Chapter 7, trying to fuse two or more of these styles), all built on the cheap with such materials as paper, plaster, and lath, creating an effect so grotesque that, as far as Tod is concerned, the only way to solve the visual problems they offer is to blow them all up and start over.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Adore thinks it's funny to throw rocks at Homer, a very large, mentally unstable man wandering around town in a daze. It doesn't end well for either of them.
  • Casting Gag: In the film version, the only one of the many stars at the premiere of The Buccaneer to appear on camera is Dick Powell... who is played by his own son, Dick Powell Jr.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: In the climax of the film adaptation, as the mob is tearing Homer apart, he briefly adopts a crucifixion-like pose.
  • Depraved Dwarf: Played with in the case of Abe Kusich. He's not malicious per se, just ill-tempered, drunken, and often prone to either fits of violence (despite his diminutive stature) or to making sexual advances at women who obviously find him ridiculous and repulsive.
  • Deuteragonist: Though Tod is the novel's protagonist, Homer becomes the primary focus of the novel for Chapters 7-12, which are a flashback telling how he came to Hollywood from Iowa and met Harry and Faye. He remains a central character even after the focus returns to the present and to Tod. This is reinforced in the film version, in which Homer is played by Donald Sutherland, who gets top billing in the opening and closing credits despite not appearing until 45 minutes into the film, while William Atherton as Tod is billed fourth (behind Sutherland, Karen Black, and Burgess Meredith, all of whom were bigger stars than Atherton was when the film was shot in 1974).
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In Chapter 27, Adore tries to prank the Heroic BSoD-afflicted Homer with a wallet on a string, and when neither that nor rude gestures and faces (nor, in the film, a mocking rendition of "Jeepers Creepers", a song Faye regularly sings) get any reaction out of him, he throws a rock at Homer's face. Homer retaliates by chasing Adore until the boy trips and falls to the ground, whereupon Homer jumps up and down on his back until he dies, despite Tod's attempts to intervene.
  • Drag Queen: In Chapter 20, Faye invites Tod to join her and Homer at the Cinderella Bar, a nightclub shaped like a giant stucco high-heeled shoe, where a drag artiste performs a lullaby to an imaginary baby (or, in the film, Sam Coslow and Ralph Rainger's "Hot Voodoo", made famous by Marlene Dietrich in the 1932 film Blonde Venus). As the performer's motions are exaggerated both in character as a woman and out of character as a man (he trips on his train as he leaves the stage, "as though he weren't used to it," but his "imitation" of a man is described as "awkward and obscene"), the line for Tod is blurred between whether he is watching a woman or a man pretending to be a woman.
  • Empty Shell: Homer is described as such - living a life utterly devoid or purpose or directed emotion. The novel states that it would be no more meaningful to describe Homer as being happy or unhappy than to say that a plant is happy or unhappy.
  • Enfant Terrible: Maybelle Loomis is determined to groom her son Adore into a child star, but he has fought tooth and nail against her determination. The abuse he has suffered at her hands as a result has turned him into a brat who is unrepentantly cruel to everyone, but most of all to Homer Simpson, who finally snaps during the book's final sequence after Adore throws a rock at him and stomps the boy to death, which causes the crowd outside the film premiere to tear him limb from limb as they riot.
  • Erotic Eating: In the film, when Tod and Faye join Earle and Miguel at their campsite in the hills above Los Angeles, Miguel and Faye exchange lascivious looks as they lick salt off their hands, down Jose Cuervo tequila straight from the bottle, and bite into wedges of lemon, their every gesture suggesting that they are imagining licking each other in a similarly sensual way.
  • Extreme Doormat: Homer is servile and obedient in a way that borders on passive aggression at times, especially when dealing with Faye.
    • In Chapter 7, we learn that he bought the second house he was shown in Los Angeles because the real estate agent bullied him into it, even though it was a fake Irish cottage on a street of mostly Spanish-style houses and every interior room is in a different, clashing style. In Chapter 9, he goes grocery shopping on Hollywood Boulevard for the first time and a beggar asks him for a nickel; he initially refuses, but the beggar presses his finger into Homer's face and asks again, and Homer drops a handful of coins onto the pavement before fleeing across the street.
    • Harry Greener senses Homer's pushover nature in Chapter 11, and uses his Playing Sick routine to rope him into buying two bottles of his homemade silver polish despite his initial observation that he can get a bottle twice as large as the one Harry is selling for the same price.
    • In Chapter 19, Faye cheerfully tells Tod that since Harry's death, Homer has been letting her live with him rent free while she tries to get her big break in show business, does all the housework and covers all of her expenses, and asks nothing in return, and in the next chapter, Homer unwittingly reveals to Tod that he has agreed to let Earle and Miguel live in his garage at Faye's request. When this fragile arrangement collapses in infidelity, violence, and desertion, Homer is left near catatonic.
  • Fake Faith Healer: The film adaptation adds a scene where Faye and Homer take Harry to a scammer/fake faith healer called Big Sister, who is purely in it for the money.
  • Foreshadowing: In Chapter 5, Tod, Claude and his wife, and various other Hollywood insiders go to silent film actress-turned-brothel madam Audrey Jenning's house to watch a stag film called Le Predicament de Marie, in which a family of four - father, mother, son, daughter - all lust after their maid, who only returns the affections of the daughter, and who ends up unwittingly "entertaining" the affections of all four in a single evening, with each new arrival forcing her to hide her current lover in a closet or under a bed; the film breaks just as a fifth person arrives. The film's plot foreshadows Faye's teasing of multiple admirers, chiefly Tod and Homer but also Earle and Miguel, and, late in the book, Claude and Abe, a tangled web that explodes into violence.
  • Glory Days: Harry Greener was a third-rate vaudeville performer, but with the decline of vaudeville and his inability to transition to films, he has been reduced to selling homemade silver polish door to door as a way to keep performing his schtick in front of increasingly less interested audiences. He also keeps a mildly positive review from the Sunday edition of The New York Times of one of his performances as "evidence" that he could have been successful.
  • Gold Digger: Faye only loves men who are rich or good-looking; Tod is neither of those things, so although she thinks him a "good-hearted man" and likes him as a friend, she does not return his affection.
  • Groin Attack: As the party at Homer's house disintegrates in Chapter 23, Abe tries to cut in on Earle and Faye's dancing. When Earle shoves him away, Abe uses his height to his advantage by charging Earle between his legs and digging his hands upwards; Earle tries to retaliate, but the pain incapacitates him and he sinks to the floor, groaning.
  • Heroic BSoD: Tod finds Homer suffering from one of these in Chapter 24. After some coaxing, he gets Homer to explain how his life in California collapsed around his ears the previous night as Faye slept with Miguel, Earle and Miguel fought, and all three moved out of Homer's house and garage. Homer announces that he is returning to Iowa, and that evening, Tod finds him wandering the streets of Los Angeles, nightshirt tucked into his trousers and holding two suitcases; when Tod tries to take one, the detached Homer yells, "Thief!" His near-catatonia means Adore's attempts to get a rise out of him all fail, until he throws a rock at Homer's face... and Homer flies into a murderous rage, with messily fatal consequences for Adore.
  • High Hopes, Zero Talent: Faye is physically attractive, but doesn't even have enough talent to find steady work as an extra; in Chapter 3, Tod goes with her to see a film in which she plays a harem girl who has one line, and even that is badly spoken. This does not stop her from convincing herself that she'll find success as an actress with the right opportunity, and Homer's unquestioning belief in her dream and willingness to support her financially until she can achieve it (which will likely never happen) sows the seeds of his own destruction in the book's final act.
  • Hollywood Costuming: The film gleefully skewers this trope in the opening sequence to establish Hollywood as a world of pure artifice. Extras are chosen to make entrances announced by a herald at a 19th century ball, and a crew member hands out assorted jewellery and military medals with no regard whatever for whether or not they are suitable for the period or the people wearing them. One of the most ridiculous examples is an Afro-Caribbean man (the only non-white extra in the film) who wears an over the top tribal chief costume that would get him laughed out of any settlement in Africa, especially the one from which he is declared to hail: Zanzibar, which was an Islamic sultanate at the time the film appears to take place.
  • Horrible Hollywood:
    • Almost all of the characters in the book came to Hollywood in search of a dream, only to find nightmares. The closest Tod comes to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood is a party to which Jade-Colored Glasses-sporting writer Claude Estee invites him which ends with a trip to a "brothel" (the girls are brought in on demand rather than kept on site) and a failed attempt to show a pornographic film. He spends most of the book surrounded by fake places and fake people, his "friends" are struggling actors who are various flavours of wannabes, has-beens, and never-weres, the Napoleonic drama on which he works as a set designer rushes into shooting the Battle of Waterloo on a soundstage that is still under construction and promptly collapses, the ordinary people he sees every day whom he regards as having "come to California to die" become a Powder Keg Crowd that explodes into looting and rioting in the book's finale... well, it certainly gives him more than enough inspiration for a painting of the apocalypse consuming Los Angeles.
    • The film preserves most of the book's critical looks at Hollywood as a land of broken dreams, and adds a few of its own. In an early sequence, Tod and Faye go for a drive together, and she poses for photographs in front of various houses and landmarks, including the Hollywoodland sign (as it was in the 1930s).note  A tour guide excitedly tells a crowd of sightseers about the housing development the sign was intended to advertise that never quite came to fruition, and regales them with the story of actress Peg Entwistle, who in 1932 climbed the ladder to the top of the H and jumped to her death.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Harry's stage career never took off, and he was completely unable to find film work when he came to California, but he keeps a mildly positive newspaper review of one of his performances to prove that he might have been a successful performer.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: When Homer tells Tod the story of the collapse of his fragile domestic arrangement with Faye, Earle, and Miguel the previous night, he explains that he heard Faye moaning through the wall separating their bedrooms, thought she was sick, and brought her a glass of water - only to find her in bed with Miguel (the virginal Homer having no idea what sex sounds like). When he left the room and found Earle outside the door, he tried to stick to the notion that Faye was sick, but Earle, unlike Homer, had the experience to know what Faye's moans really were, and he threw open the door and attacked Miguel.
  • Ironic Name: Adore Loomis, the spiteful, cruel and thoroughly unlikeable Enfant Terrible.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Homer desperately wants Faye to be happy, even though he knows that a romantic relationship between them can never happen, and so he indulges her every desire after she moves in with him and asks nothing in return, puts up with her sometimes violent mood swings, and lets Earle and Miguel move into his garage, ostensibly until they can get on their feet and get a place of their own. This stands in stark contrast to Tod's behaviour toward Faye; after she rejects him, he regularly fantasises about beating and raping her, his gestures of concern and altruism toward her all have ulterior motives, and he angrily calls her a whore in front of Homer and tells him she is just using him. Part of the reason for Homer's collapse into a Heroic BSoD after Faye moves out is his realisation that nothing he did made her truly happy.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: In Chapter 22, when Faye learns that Claude is a screenwriter, rather than ask for advice from the only person in the book who has actually achieved success in the film industry, she positions herself as the one who knows how to achieve success and talks at length about her career ambitions and how she plans to make them a reality, based on half-remembered and less-than-half-understood things she has read in fan magazines and trade papers. "It was all nonsense," according to the narration, and Claude eventually gives up trying to get a word in edgewise.
  • Liquid Courage: When Harry Greener dies and leaves Faye penniless, Tod offers to cover the funeral expenses, but Faye chooses instead to work for Audrey Jenning (whose other girls include Faye's friend Mary Dove) to earn the money herself. Tod decides to confront her over this decision at Harry's funeral in Chapter 17, as he is secretly angry that she will have sex with random strangers but not with him; he decides he needs a few drinks beforehand, but ends up having too many, and by the time he runs into Faye, he has "passed the brave state and [is] well into the ugly one."
  • Lonely Funeral: Harry's funeral in Chapter 17 seems to have averted this, but Tod soon discovers that most of the "mourners" are actually stargazers, and shortly after the service begins, a whisper passes along the back rows and the stargazers promptly depart, apparently having received word of a real star sighting (in the film, they are specifically going to gawk at Clark Gable, who is attending another funeral). Among the actual mourners, the only ones to respond when Mrs. Johnson extends an opportunity to view Harry one last time before his burial are Faye, the Gingos, and Abe Kusich; the other mourners have to be shamed into paying their respects. Tod, meanwhile, is three sheets to the wind and quietly slips out at this point.
  • Lost in Character: As part of the book's critical look at Hollywood artifice, many of the performing artists have so completely thrown themselves into the characters they play for an audience that they continue to inhabit those personalities in their everyday lives, to the point that their real personalities no longer seem to exist.
    • Harry has spent so long entertaining audiences with his suffering that he now actively seeks out opportunities to regale people with tales of his ruined life. In Chapter 6, Tod, through the narration, reflects on the fact that while in the past, Harry "probably restricted his clowning to the boards ... now he clowned continuously. It was his sole method of defense. Most people, he had discovered, won't go out of their way to punish a clown."
    • Faye has been trained by her father to act with a maximum of artifice when performing, and now keeps up her fake personality offscreen as well as a defence against the harsh reality that she has no real talent, viewing everything - including prostituting herself to pay for Harry's funeral - as just another role. In Chapter 26, Tod muses that this attitude may be helping Faye survive any misfortunes life throws her way, like a cork bobbing on the surface of a stormy sea that consumes iron ships and reinforced concrete piers.
    • Earle and his friends Calvin and Hink spend their idle hours standing outside Hodge's saddlery store as though posing on a dusty frontier town set, playing the same clichéd western roles that they play in their sporadic onscreen appearances.
  • Love Triangle: The book features two significant examples, both with Faye at the centre.
    • Much of the plot is driven by Tod and Homer's contrasting forms of unrequited love for Faye. After she rejects him, Tod's love for Faye becomes an obsession with possessing and destroying her, and most of his actions toward her are motivated more by his own selfish desires for her than out of any concern for her. Homer is the opposite; Faye is equally uninterested in a romantic relationship with him, but he happily soaks up her abuse and caters to her every whim in a doomed bid to make her happy. Tod and Homer's own friendship starts to break down thanks to their divergent attitudes toward Faye.
    • Meanwhile, Faye is more overtly romantically interested in Earle, but flirts with, and eventually sleeps with, Miguel to make Earle jealous. In Chapter 14, Earle attacks Miguel with a club when he dances with Faye at their campsite, and in Chapter 24, Homer tells Tod that after Earle found Miguel and Faye in bed together, the two men got into a fistfight, and the next morning, all three of them had moved out of his house.
  • Meaningful Name: The three primary characters have names chosen carefully to reflect their personalities and/or roles in the story.
    • Art school graduate and set designer Tod Hackett's last name is derived from "hack", a pejorative term for a writer or artist, usually of modest talent, who values commercial success over creativity. His first name is derived from the German word for "death".
    • Faye Greener's name suggests The Fair Folk, befitting her rather flighty nature, and greenery, a reflection of her naïveté regarding her prospects as an actress; she seems to think that ambition is an adequate substitute for talent.
    • Homer Simpson is, as the syllable "simp" in his surname suggests, a gullible simpleton who lets himself be taken advantage of by first Harry, then Faye, and who doesn't have the nerve to stand up to either of them (except, as seen in Chapter 20, by becoming even more servile and deferent).
  • Missing Mom: Faye's mother cheated on Harry repeatedly, then deserted him shortly after Faye was born. Harry regularly told the story of her betrayal and abandonment to bar patrons, as it fit his career trajectory of using his own misery and suffering to entertain audiences.
  • Moment Killer: Tod's fantasies of taking Faye by force are always interrupted before he can go too far, just as the one occasion on which he tries to act out his fantasy never gets off the ground, but perhaps the best example of a moment killer is the waiter at the restaurant where Tod has dinner in Chapter 26. Having learned that Earle told his friends that he and Miguel fought over money instead of Faye and that he broke off his relationship with her, Tod envisions Faye as a cork bobbing on a stormy sea before being washed ashore and picked up by one of Audrey Jenning's customers, but his reverie is interrupted by the waiter bringing him his dinner. He waves the waiter away "with a gesture more often used on flies" and begins daydreaming about preparing to hit Faye over the head with a bottle, only to be interrupted again by the waiter, who is concerned that he hasn't touched his food. A frustrated Tod eats a single bite of his steak to get rid of the waiter, but the "moment" is gone, so he gives up on both his fantasy and his dinner, settles his bill, and leaves.
  • Motor Mouth: When Tod finds Homer suffering from a Heroic BSoD in Chapter 24, it takes some prodding to get him to talk about what happened after Tod left the previous night's party; Homer then talks non-stop for twenty minutes, the words coming so fast that Tod cannot make sense of them until Homer finally stops talking in the middle of a sentence and slumps back, seemingly falling asleep. Rather than transcribing Homer's bout of logorrhoea verbatim, the book conveys the same effect by having Tod piece together the previous night's events into the book's longest single paragraph, one that goes on for several pages.
  • MST: In the film version, when Tod, Claude, and their Hollywood friends go to Audrey Jenning's house to watch a pornographic film, far from being titillated by it, they spend the screening mocking it, especially the performers' physical appearances (flat chests, varicose veins, etc.). A male guest jokes that one of the characters looks like Tod, which earns him a flirtatious look from one of the female guests.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Subverted when Tod discovers that Faye has prostituted herself to earn the money to pay for Harry's funeral. He is upset not because he feels she is degrading herself, but because she is having sex with random strangers and still refuses to have sex with him.
  • The Napoleon: Abe is described by the book as a "dwarf", and has one of the most belligerent personalities of any of the primary characters. This is established in his first meeting with Tod in Chapter 2, when he rants about everything he has done to financially support the woman who has just kicked him out of their shared apartment. In Chapter 23, when Earle and Faye refuse to let Abe cut in on their dancing at the post-cockfight party at Homer's house, Abe launches a savage Groin Attack against Earle that causes the whole party to collapse into violence.
  • Near-Rape Experience: After Faye rebuffs his advances, Tod regularly fantasises about raping her, although his fantasies are somehow always interrupted before the climax. When they are together at Earle and Miguel's campsite in Chapter 14, Faye runs off into the woods and Tod runs after her, planning to act on his fantasy, but he is unable to catch up with her and later discovers that she has driven off without him (in the film, he does catch up with her, but she fights him off).
  • Not So Above It All: Initially, Tod's intellectual and artistic background places him into the role of detached observer, just in Hollywood to make studies for his painting The Burning of Los Angeles, inspired by the anger at frustrated dreams he sees in the eyes of ordinary people on the street every day. But the longer he stays in Hollywood, the more he finds himself enthralled by, and actively participating in, the world of artifice and depravity around him. This is especially true of his interactions with Faye; after she rebuffs his declaration of love, his gestures of outward concern for her are really motivated by his obsession with having her and breaking her, through which he embodies the same anger and frustration as the people he thinks of as having "come to California to die".
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • In the film version, Tod gets this expression on his face when he realises the Battle of Waterloo soundstage is still under construction... and because the "DANGER - KEEP OFF" signs have all been removed, it is about to have dozens of extras charging onto it. His attempts to get the director and extras' attention by waving his arms and yelling "Hey! Hold it! Hold it! HOLD IT!" go unnoticed, and soon Tod's expression is mirrored on the faces of most of the cast and crew as first an assistant director, then dozens of extras fall through the fake hillside as it completely falls apart.
    • At the climax of the film, Adore's expression after throwing a rock at Homer's face goes from sadistic glee to absolute terror in no time flat when Homer's roar of anger makes it apparent that he's just made a huge mistake, one for which he pays with his life.
  • The One That Got Away: Chapter 8 features a flashback to Homer's life as a hotel bookkeeper in Waynesville, Iowa. The hotel management asked him to evict a tenant named Romola Martin (implied to be a prostitute, or at least a mantrap), but when he went to her room, he got a few steps into being seduced by her (for what would have been his first sexual experience) before the management called the room to ask if they needed to call the police. He fled the room, and the next morning, the manager congratulated him for a job well done: Miss Martin settled her bill (with money Homer gave her) and moved out. He combed the other hotels and boarding houses in town, but was unable to find her, and has been pining for her ever since. (In the film, this story is told not in flashback but when Faye discovers pictures of Romola Martin in Homer's personal effects and flies into a jealous rage.)
  • Operation: Jealousy: Faye is in a sexual relationship with Earle, but sleeps with Miguel to make him jealous. It works, at least at first; when Earle finds the two of them in bed together, he and Miguel get into a fistfight. However, Earle breaks up with Faye as a result, and all three of them move out of Homer's house.
  • Playing Sick: When Harry senses that a prospective silver polish customer is a real sucker, he will reel them in by pretending to be sick. In Chapter 11, he successfully deploys this scheme on Homer, who goes from protesting that Harry is charging twice as much for silver polish as he would pay at his local market to turning down the seemingly devastated Harry's insistence that he take the bottle free of charge and offering to buy two instead. However, Harry's deteriorating health means that he is struggling to differentiate between fake and real sickness. Similarly, Faye is so used to his sickness charade that when he dies between Chapters 15 and 16, we learn that she initially assumed it was another act.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: Tod observes that the crowd that has assembled outside the film premiere in Chapter 27 is mostly comprised of people who have been left bitter and disillusioned at life in Los Angeles, who worked unfulfilling jobs to save up and move to California to live lives of leisure, only to become bored with what the city has to offer and find outlets through violence. When they see Homer stomping Adore to death, their anger and boredom boils over and they abandon the film premiere to exact mob justice against him before turning to more wide scale violence, including smashing windows, overturning and burning cars, and attacking innocent bystanders.
  • Quote Mine: In Chapter 6, Harry shows Tod a mildly positive newspaper review of a vaudeville performance he gave that ends with the observation, "My first thought was that some producer should put Mr. Greener into a big revue against a background of beautiful girls and glittering curtains. But my second was that this would be a mistake. I am afraid that Mr. Greener, like certain humble field plants which die when transferred to richer soil, had better be left to bloom in vaudeville against a background of ventriloquists and lady bicycle riders." Harry explains that he took out an advertisement in Variety that reduced this to "... some producer should put Mr. Greener into a big revue..."
  • Random Events Plot: It's a collection of vignettes about a loose-knit group of marginal people in 1930s Hollywood, building up to an explosive climax.
  • Repetitive Name: At one point a couple of Mexican scoundrels named the Hermanos brothers are mentioned. "Hermanos" means "brothers" in Spanish.
  • Rule of Funny: When Tod attends a soirée at Claude Estee's house in Chapter 4, tennis pro Joan Schwartzen takes him out to the pool and proudly shows off the sculpture of a dead horse lying on the bottom. Why is it there? "To amuse," says Joan; someone at a previous party said the pool needed a dead horse on the bottom, so Alice bought the sculpture (though Joan is disappointed that Tod immediately recognised that it wasn't a real horse). Its presence makes no sense at all, but no-one cares; it's funny, and that's what matters.
  • Sanity Slippage: Tod's grip on reality begins to slide precipitously at the very end of the book. After seeing the mob literally tear Homer apart and getting swept helplessly along as they begin looting and rioting, he begins hallucinating the scene in front of him as his own painting, The Burning of Los Angeles, and imagines he is actively painting the unfolding chaos. When a policeman pulls him over a fence and puts him in a squad car to take him to the safety of Claude's house, he initially thinks the sound of the siren is coming from his own mouth, and after establishing that it is not, he begins imitating it at the top of his lungs.note 
  • Sell-Out: At the beginning of the book, we learn that Tod's classmates at Yale took a dim view of his decision to go to Hollywood and work as a set and production designer, convinced that he was trading away any chance to ever create art again just to earn a quick buck. Tod, however, was losing interest in painting before being offered the Hollywood job, so if anything, it has given his creative career a boost.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The book's title is a dual reference to The Bible, alluding to both the plague of locusts called down on Egypt by Moses in Exodus, and the description of the coming apocalypse in the New Testament. The film played up the latter connection with the tagline "The Day of the Locust is coming!" on early posters.
    • In the book, the film in which Faye plays a dancing girl with one badly-delivered line is an unnamed two-reeler. In the film, she has been edited into the 1937 feature film Ali Baba Goes to Town with Eddie Cantor as a hobo who dreams he is Ali Baba and Tony Martin, June Lang, and Gypsy Rose Lee (under her real name of Louise Hovick) as both themselves and characters in the film within a film (notably, Ali Baba Goes to Town blurs the line between fiction and reality as a narrative device, and the characters in The Day of the Locust blur that same line as a defence mechanism).
    • The film premiering in the book's final chapter is unnamed. In the film, the premiere is for Cecil B. DeMille's 1938 epic The Buccaneer, and many of that film's cast members, including Fredric March, Anthony Quinn, Walter Brennan, Douglas Dumbrille, and Beulah Bondi, are mentioned as being present for the premiere, as are Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, Ginger Rogers, Merle Oberon, and Dick Powell.note 
    • In the book, the theatre at which the unnamed film is premiering is called Kahn's Persian Pleasure Palace, and is advertised with a sign reading "Mr. Kahn a pleasure dome decreed", a reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan". (In the film, the premiere takes place at Grauman's Chinese Theater; it was filmed on a set rather than on location at the genuine article to allow for artistic licence regarding the configuration of the surrounding roads.)
  • Stage Mom: Adore's mother, Maybelle, is hell-bent on turning Adore into a child star, and has forcibly groomed him into an androgynous version of Shirley Temple, but he struggles to pass auditions and is rude and cruel to everyone around him as a result of his mother's physical and psychological abuse. In the film, we see her drag Adore out of an audition, berating him for failing to cry at the director's command and threatening to show him how to cry on command as she hits him; an unrepentant Adore hits her back and runs off.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Tod finds the traumatised Homer wandering the streets of Los Angeles with one of these in Chapter 27, as his life in California has crumbled into dust and he has decided to return to Iowa. The look in his eyes is described as "empty of everything, even annoyance".
  • Torn Apart by the Mob: After Homer stomps Adore to death, the crowd turns on him and rips him to pieces before degenerating into a full-blown riot.
  • Travelling Salesman Montage: In the film, Tod drops Harry off in Pinyon Canyon to peddle his homemade silver polish door to door, and the former vaudeville performer dances up the steps of the first house... only to be cut off moments into his performance/sales patter by the house's uninterested owner. The second homeowner is mowing his lawn when Harry arrives and tries to reel him in with a magic trick... but as soon as the bottle of silver polish comes out, the man quickly pushes the lawnmower around the side of the house. The third homeowner simply slams her door in Harry's face after he puts a lariat over his hat as a fake halo and produces the silver polish bottle. To underscore the futile misery of his job, the initially jaunty musical score drops sharply in tempo with each downturn in Harry's luck, each note as plodding as his footsteps. By the time he gets to Homer's house, he is a dishevelled, desperate wreck.
  • Troubled Fetal Position: In Chapter 25, Tod finds Homer sleeping in this position after being traumatised by Faye's two-timing of Earle, Earle and Miguel's fight, and the nighttime departure of all three. Tod muses on the similarity of the sleeping Homer to a picture he saw in a textbook on abnormal psychology of a woman curled up in that position in a hammock with the caption "Uterine Flight", and thinks about "what a perfect escape the return of the womb" is.
  • Troubled Production: In-universe, the Napoleonic drama for which Tod is working as a set designer is falling behind schedule, so in Chapter 18, the crew rush into filming the climactic Battle of Waterloo sequence - on a soundstage that is still actively under construction. Tod realises that the scene that unfolds before him parallels the actual battle; just as Napoleon didn't realise there was a ditch at the foot of Mont-Saint-Jean that bogged down his cavalry charge and marked a turning of the tide against him at Waterloo, so the cast and crew don't realise that the soundstage is unfinished until it collapses under their weight, injuring dozens of extras. (The extras aren't upset by their injuries, as they know they will receive generous financial compensation for them; one man who broke a leg thinks he'll be in for a $500 payout.)
  • Unbuilt Trope: The novel could be taken as a satirical tweaking of Film Noir tropes, with Homer and Tod both having their lives messed up by Faye, who's like a Deconstruction of the Femme Fatale, since she's quite pathetic, despite her good looks. But it was published before that genre became popular. Still, Nathanael West had co-written one of the first Film Noir examples, Stranger on the Third Floor.
  • While Rome Burns: In the film version, the characters remain cheerfully indifferent to the brewing tensions in Europe. When Faye discovers that her part in Ali Baba Goes to Town has largely ended up on the cutting room floor, she, Earle, and Tod leave the theatre, uninterested in the newsreel reporting a military buildup in Germany and broadcasting a speech by Adolf Hitler. Later on, when Tod and Faye go to Earle and Miguel's campsite, they have quail roasted over an open fire, eaten out of unread newspapers reporting on the doomed four-nation Munich Agreement (aka the Neville Chamberlain "peace in our time" pact, which the Nazis barely even pretended to honor).
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: When Tod and Homer first overhear Maybelle Loomis calling her son Adore's name in Chapter 19, Tod remarks to Homer what a strange name it is; Homer suggests perhaps the child is foreign. They are surprised to discover that Maybelle is not foreign at all, and has apparently given her son such an odd name to improve his prospects of becoming a child film star.
  • Word-Salad Horror: Tod finds Homer curled up in a fetal position in his garden muttering incoherent gibberish after Faye leaves him. Tod remarks in narration that only the rhythm and phrasing of Homer's ramblings resembled speech, the content was utterly meaningless to anyone except perhaps Homer.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Homer's pent-up anger and Adore's Enfant Terrible tendencies collide in the book's final chapter. When Adore's attempt to trick Homer into grabbing a wallet he has attached to a string gets no reaction, and neither do his rude faces or gestures, Adore throws a rock at his face. Homer snaps out of his Heroic BSoD and into a murderous rage, and chases after Adore before jumping up and down on him until he dies.

Alternative Title(s): The Day Of The Locust