March 31, 2010
In The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, illusion verse reality is one of the main themes of the novel. Hollywood is known for it’s acting, but the town and everyone that inhibit it seem to get carried away with trying to be something they aren’t. Nothing is really indigenous in Hollywood and everything is borrowed from another place. The houses have been designed to look like Irish cottages, Spanish villas, or Southern plantations while the characters often imagine themselves as someone other than who they really are. Tod states, “The fat lady in the yachting cap was going shopping, not boating; the man in the Norfolk jacket and Tyrolean hat was returning, not from a mountain, but an insurance office; and the girl in slacks and sneaks with a bandana around her head had just left a switchboard, not a tennis court” (60). West shows us that Hollywood is filled with fantasies and dreams rather than reality, which can best be seen through characters such as Harry and Faye Greener.
Harry acts as if he has had a long and successful career as a star, when in reality he is just a washed up clown. Harry’s clowning act is used to sell his shoe polish. Harry knows that no one really wants to buy his shoe polish but he thinks that he is still a great actor and also realizes that people won't go out of their way to punish a clown. But clowning becomes compulsive because he acts in his everyday life. Harry is so caught up in his illusion that it ends up killing him. He becomes really sick but can only think and respond in terms of performance. While playing faint, he shockingly discovers that he really is faint. Having role-played so much, he can no longer tell when he is acting pain and feeling pain, pretending suffering and really suffering. Though Harry's illness is real, he continues to put on his act. After offering Harry some water Tod states, “Harry framed the word ‘no’ with...
Cited: West, Nathanael. Miss Lonelyhearts & the Day of the Locust. New York: New Directions Book, 2009. Print.
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