The Day of the Locust


Welcome to the whirlwind world of Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust, a masterpiece that dives deep into the illusions and despair of Hollywood in the 1930s πŸŽ₯✨. Published in 1939, this novel stands out for its gritty take on the American Dream and the stark realities behind the glitz and glamor of the movie industry. Nathanael West, the genius behind this piece, was known for his acute social commentary and darkly comedic style, making The Day of the Locust not just a novel but a powerful critique of society.

West intricately weaves a tale that captures the essence of an era filled with broken dreams and stark realities, classifying this work as part of the American literature genre, specifically within the realms of social satire and black comedy. As we delve into the heart of Hollywood’s golden age, we’re met with characters and scenarios that feel both outlandishly surreal and uncomfortably familiar, showcasing West’s brilliance in reflecting the human condition.

So, buckle up as we embark on a journey through the dusty streets of Los Angeles, meeting dreamers and schemers along the way, all through the lens of Nathanael West’s sharp wit and vivid imagination πŸŒ΄πŸšΆβ€β™‚οΈ. Whether you’re a literature buff or just someone curious about the darker side of Hollywood’s history, The Day of the Locust promises a ride you won’t forget.

Plot Summary

The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West is a gripping narrative that delves into the lives of several characters who find themselves on the fringes of Hollywood’s shiny facade. Here’s a detailed look at the main events of the novel:

Exposition β€” The novel introduces us to Tod Hackett, a young artist who moves to Hollywood to work as a set designer. His fascination with the desperation and disillusionment surrounding him inspires his major artwork, “The Burning of Los Angeles.”

Rising Action β€” Tod becomes infatuated with Faye Greener, an aspiring actress living with her father, Harry, a door-to-door salesman and former vaudevillian. Faye, however, does not return his feelings, preferring the company of men who can advance her career or provide for her financially.

Climax β€” The narrative reaches its boiling point when Homer Simpson, a man from Iowa who has moved to California for health reasons, gets involved with Faye. His infatuation leads to a series of events that expose the characters’ vulnerabilities and the violent underbelly of Hollywood society.

Falling Action β€” After a tumultuous series of events, including the death of Faye’s father and her subsequent spiral into desperation, the characters’ lives start to unravel. Faye drifts away, taking on demeaning jobs to survive, while Tod continues to be obsessed with the idea of saving her from herself.

Resolution β€” The novel culminates in a riot during a Hollywood premiere, symbolizing the eruption of pent-up frustrations and desires of the disenfranchised characters. Tod witnesses the chaos, realizing that the apocalyptic vision he has been painting might indeed be prophetic.

Through these events, West offers a stark commentary on the American Dream turned nightmare, portraying Hollywood as a place where dreams come to die amidst the harsh realities of life. The plot intricately explores themes of obsession, desperation, and the human condition, making The Day of the Locust a timeless piece that resonates with readers long after the final page is turned.

Character Analysis

In The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West brings to life a vivid cast of characters, each embodying different facets of the dream-chasing, disillusioned society of Hollywood. Here’s a closer look at the main characters and their development throughout the novel:

  • Tod Hackett β€” An artist and the protagonist, Tod moves to Hollywood to work in the movie industry but becomes disillusioned by the false promises and broken dreams he encounters. His obsession with Faye and his painting, “The Burning of Los Angeles,” reflect his inner turmoil and critical perspective on the societal decay around him.
  • Faye Greener β€” The object of Tod’s affection, Faye is an aspiring actress living with her father. Her beauty and charm mask a deep desperation and pragmatic willingness to use others for her advantage. Throughout the story, Faye’s interactions reveal her as a tragic figure caught in the machinery of Hollywood’s dream factory.
  • Homer Simpson β€” A man from Iowa who moves to California for health reasons. Homer represents the outsider, drawn to Hollywood’s glamour but ill-equipped to navigate its complexities. His tragic end is symbolic of the destructive power of unfulfilled desires and the alienation of individuals in a disconnected society.
  • Harry Greener β€” Faye’s father, a former vaudevillian turned door-to-door salesman. Harry embodies the has-been, clinging to the remnants of his past glory. His relationship with Faye is poignant, highlighting the generational gap and the fading of old Hollywood.
  • Abe Kusich β€” A dwarf and one of the Hollywood fringe characters who frequents the same circles as Tod and Faye. Abe’s aggressive and often vulgar behavior contrasts sharply with his physical stature, making him a symbol of the distorted values and personalities drawn to Hollywood.

Here’s a summary table of the character analysis:

Tod HackettObservant, disillusionedTo find success and love in HollywoodBecomes more cynical and obsessed
Faye GreenerCharismatic, desperateTo achieve fame and maintain her lifestyleBecomes more disillusioned and desperate
Homer SimpsonNaive, passiveTo find health and belongingEnds tragically, overwhelmed by Hollywood
Harry GreenerNostalgic, strugglingTo cling to his past and provide for FayeDies clinging to his dreams
Abe KusichAggressive, vulgarTo assert his place despite his statureRemains largely unchanged, a constant in the chaotic Hollywood landscape

Through these characters, West paints a vivid picture of a society on the brink, where the pursuit of dreams often leads to disillusionment and despair. Each character’s journey through the novel provides a critical commentary on the human condition within the context of 1930s Hollywood.

Themes and Symbols

The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West is rich with themes and symbols that delve deep into the American psyche, particularly the dark underbelly of the American Dream in Hollywood. Here’s an exploration of the major themes and symbols present in the book:


  • The Illusion of the American Dream β€” The novel starkly portrays the gap between the glitzy surface of Hollywood and the grim reality of those who flock there seeking fame and fortune. The characters’ unfulfilled desires and broken dreams highlight the elusive nature of the American Dream.
  • Desperation and Disillusionment β€” West explores the deep desperation and disillusionment felt by those who find themselves on the fringes of society, showing how these feelings can lead to violence and self-destruction. The characters’ actions are often driven by a deep sense of despair, illustrating the dark side of human nature when faced with unattainable desires.
  • The Nature of Spectacle and Voyeurism β€” Through the lens of Hollywood, the novel comments on the spectacle of celebrity culture and the voyeuristic tendencies it engenders in society. This theme is encapsulated in the riot scene, where the boundary between observer and participant becomes blurred in the chaos.


  • Tod’s Painting, “The Burning of Los Angeles” β€” Tod’s ongoing artwork serves as a symbolic forewarning of the impending collapse and chaos resulting from societal disillusionment and rage. It represents the destructive potential of unfulfilled dreams and the volatile nature of mass disillusionment.
  • Hollywood β€” Hollywood itself is a symbol of the American Dream, representing both the promise of success and the reality of its unattainability for most. It stands as a metaphor for any environment that promises more than it can deliver, leading to inevitable disenchantment.
  • The Locusts β€” The title of the book refers to the biblical plague of locusts, symbolizing the destructive force of the characters drawn to Hollywood. Like locusts, they consume everything in their path, driven by insatiable desires, and in the end, they are left with nothing but devastation.

Through these themes and symbols, West crafts a haunting narrative that reflects on the dangers of unchecked ambition, the emptiness of superficial success, and the human capacity for self-destruction. The Day of the Locust serves as a cautionary tale about the dark side of the American Dream, making it a timeless piece of American literature.

Style and Tone

Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust is renowned for its distinctive writing style and tone, which contribute significantly to the mood and atmosphere of the book. Here’s a look at how these elements work together to shape the reader’s experience:

Writing Style

  • Economical and Precise β€” West’s prose is noted for its brevity and precision. He uses sharp, concise descriptions to paint vivid images of the characters and settings, enabling readers to quickly grasp the essence of the scenes and the personalities involved.
  • Satirical Edge β€” The narrative is imbued with a satirical tone that critiques the Hollywood dream factory and the broader societal flaws it represents. West’s satire is not overtly humorous; rather, it’s biting and dark, reflecting the underlying despair of the characters.
  • Symbolic Imagery β€” West employs symbolic imagery throughout the novel to deepen the thematic impact of the story. Objects, settings, and even actions are loaded with meaning, contributing to the overall commentary on the human condition and societal norms.


  • Cynical and Dark β€” The tone of the book is overwhelmingly cynical, with West casting a skeptical eye on the promises of fame and success. This darkness is not just in the fate of the characters but in the depiction of Hollywood as a place where dreams are not just deferred but destroyed.
  • Melancholic and Reflective β€” Beneath the cynicism, there’s a thread of melancholy and reflection. West seems to mourn the loss of innocence and the harsh realities that replace it, creating a poignant undercurrent to the narrative.
  • Foreboding β€” There’s a sense of impending doom that permeates the novel, largely emanating from Tod’s painting and the buildup to the climactic riot. This foreboding tone heightens the tension and underscores the novel’s exploration of disillusionment and despair.

Through his unique style and tone, Nathanael West creates a compelling and unsettling portrayal of Hollywood in the 1930s. The combination of sharp satire, rich symbolism, and a deeply cynical view of the American Dream makes The Day of the Locust a powerful critique of society and a fascinating study in human behavior.

Literary Devices used in The Day of the Locust

Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust is a rich tapestry woven with numerous literary devices that enhance its narrative depth and thematic resonance. Here are the top 10 literary devices used in the book:

  1. Symbolism β€” West uses symbols, such as Tod’s painting “The Burning of Los Angeles” and the setting of Hollywood itself, to convey deeper meanings about the American Dream, societal decay, and the destructive nature of human desires.
  2. Irony β€” There’s a pervasive use of irony, particularly situational irony, where the outcomes of the characters’ actions starkly contrast with their dreams and aspirations. This discrepancy underscores the novel’s critique of Hollywood and the elusive American Dream.
  3. Satire β€” The narrative employs satire to critique the superficiality and moral bankruptcy of Hollywood culture. West’s depiction of the film industry and its denizens exposes the absurdities and hypocrisies of the pursuit of fame.
  4. Foreshadowing β€” Tod’s apocalyptic painting foreshadows the climactic riot and the overall sense of doom that pervades the novel. This device sets a tone of impending disaster, reflecting the characters’ internal and external turmoil.
  5. Imagery β€” Vivid imagery is used to evoke the seedy, desperate atmosphere of Hollywood, from the stark landscapes to the grotesque appearances of some characters. This imagery reinforces the novel’s themes of disillusionment and despair.
  6. Allusion β€” West makes several allusions to historical, biblical, and cultural references, enriching the narrative with layers of meaning. For example, the title itself alludes to a biblical plague, hinting at the destructive force of the characters’ collective disillusionment.
  7. Personification β€” Inanimate objects and abstract concepts are often personified, giving them lifelike qualities that reflect the characters’ internal states or the societal atmosphere. This device adds depth to the novel’s exploration of themes like loneliness and alienation.
  8. Metaphor β€” The novel is rich with metaphors, such as Hollywood as a dream factory that manufactures and sells illusions. These metaphors enhance the critique of the entertainment industry and the broader societal implications.
  9. Juxtaposition β€” West juxtaposes the glamorous image of Hollywood with the grim reality of its inhabitants’ lives, highlighting the stark contrast between appearance and reality. This juxtaposition underscores the novel’s thematic concerns with disillusionment and the failure of the American Dream.
  10. Pathetic Fallacy β€” The use of weather and environmental conditions to reflect the emotional state of characters or the societal atmosphere is evident throughout the novel. For example, the oppressive heat in Los Angeles mirrors the characters’ escalating tensions and frustrations.

These literary devices work together to create a nuanced and critical portrayal of Hollywood in the 1930s, offering insights into the human condition and the societal constructs that shape our perceptions and actions.

Literary Devices Examples

Let’s explore examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, illustrating how these techniques enhance the narrative and themes of the novel.


1. Tod’s Painting “The Burning of Los Angeles”

  • Example: The painting symbolizes the destructive end of the characters’ dreams and the broader societal decay.
  • Explanation: It serves as a prophetic vision of chaos, reflecting the internal turmoil and desperation of those caught in the Hollywood dream factory.

2. Hollywood

  • Example: Hollywood itself is a symbol of the illusive American Dream, promising fame and fortune but delivering despair.
  • Explanation: It represents the dichotomy between appearance and reality, showcasing the industry’s role in manufacturing dreams that often lead to disillusionment.

3. The Locusts

  • Example: The title’s reference to locusts symbolizes the destructive nature of the characters and their dreams.
  • Explanation: Like a plague of locusts, the characters consume and destroy, their actions driven by unattainable desires, leading to a cycle of despair.


1. Faye’s Acting Career

  • Example: Despite her aspirations, Faye’s acting career never takes off, highlighting the irony of her situation.
  • Explanation: Her failure contrasts sharply with her dreams of stardom, embodying the novel’s critique of the empty promises of Hollywood.

2. Homer’s Escape

  • Example: Homer moves to Hollywood to improve his health but finds himself in a toxic environment.
  • Explanation: The irony of his situation underscores the deceptive allure of Hollywood, promising healing but delivering harm.


1. The Hollywood Party Scene

  • Example: West satirizes Hollywood parties as shallow gatherings where appearances are everything.
  • Explanation: This scene critiques the superficiality of Hollywood culture, where genuine human connections are sacrificed for the sake of networking and appearances.


1. The Riot

  • Example: Tod’s increasingly apocalyptic visions foreshadow the novel’s climactic riot.
  • Explanation: This anticipation builds tension and underscores the novel’s themes of societal collapse and the destructive nature of disillusioned dreams.


1. The Desolate Landscape of Hollywood

  • Example: West describes Hollywood’s landscape as barren and artificial, mirroring the inner desolation of its inhabitants.
  • Explanation: This imagery reinforces the novel’s critique of the emptiness behind Hollywood’s glamorous faΓ§ade.


1. Biblical References

  • Example: The title’s allusion to the locust plague invokes biblical themes of destruction and judgment.
  • Explanation: This reference enriches the novel’s exploration of moral decay and societal collapse.


1. The City as a Predator

  • Example: Hollywood is often personified as a predator, luring in unsuspecting victims with its promises.
  • Explanation: This personification highlights the predatory nature of the industry, preying on the dreams and vulnerabilities of those who come to it.


1. Hollywood as a Dream Factory

  • Example: The metaphor of Hollywood as a factory producing dreams captures its dual nature of creativity and exploitation.
  • Explanation: This metaphor critiques the commercialization of art and the commodification of human aspirations.


1. Glamour vs. Despair

  • Example: The juxtaposition of Hollywood’s glamorous image with the despair of its failed dreamers highlights the stark reality behind the illusion.
  • Explanation: This technique underscores the novel’s thematic focus on the disparity between appearance and reality.

Pathetic Fallacy

1. The Oppressive Los Angeles Heat

  • Example: The relentless heat mirrors the characters’ increasing desperation and tension.
  • Explanation: This environmental reflection of emotional states emphasizes the novel’s atmosphere of tension and impending doom.

These examples demonstrate Nathanael West’s masterful use of literary devices to deepen the narrative and thematic complexity of The Day of the Locust, offering readers a richly layered exploration of the dark side of the American Dream.

The Day of the Locust – FAQs

What is the main theme of The Day of the Locust?
The main theme of The Day of the Locust is the dark side of the American Dream, particularly as it pertains to Hollywood and the film industry. The novel explores the disillusionment, despair, and destruction that often accompany the pursuit of fame and success.

Who is the protagonist of The Day of the Locust, and what is his goal?
The protagonist of the novel is Tod Hackett, an artist who comes to Hollywood to work as a set designer. His goal evolves from seeking success in his career to becoming increasingly obsessed with saving Faye Greener, an aspiring actress, from the clutches of Hollywood’s false promises.

How does Nathanael West portray Hollywood in the novel?
Nathanael West portrays Hollywood as a place of illusion and despair, where dreams are manufactured and sold to the masses but seldom realized. It is depicted as a landscape of moral decay, where the pursuit of fame leads to spiritual emptiness and social alienation.

What is the significance of the novel’s title, The Day of the Locust?
The title alludes to a biblical plague, suggesting a catastrophic event. It symbolizes the destructive force of the characters’ collective disillusionment and the societal decay within Hollywood. The locusts represent both the predatory nature of the industry and the swarming, destructive desperation of its dreamers.

How does The Day of the Locust address the concept of the American Dream?
The novel critiques the American Dream by showcasing its unattainability for the majority who pursue it in Hollywood. Through the characters’ struggles and failures, West highlights the disparity between the dream’s promise of happiness and success and the reality of exploitation and disillusionment.

Can The Day of the Locust be considered a satire?
Yes, The Day of the Locust can be considered a satire, as it uses humor, irony, and exaggeration to critique Hollywood and the broader American culture’s obsession with fame and success. West employs a satirical lens to expose the absurdities and moral bankruptcy of the film industry.

What role does violence play in The Day of the Locust?
Violence in the novel serves as a culmination of the characters’ frustrations, despair, and unfulfilled desires. The climactic riot acts as a metaphor for the explosive potential of societal disillusionment, illustrating the dangerous extremes to which people are driven by their pursuit of unattainable dreams.

Is The Day of the Locust a realistic portrayal of Hollywood in the 1930s?
While The Day of the Locust incorporates elements of exaggeration for satirical purposes, it is grounded in Nathanael West’s observations of Hollywood in the 1930s. The novel reflects the era’s economic disparities, the exploitation within the film industry, and the widespread disillusionment following the Great Depression, making it a realistic, albeit stylized, portrayal.


QuestionsABCDCorrect Answer
What is Tod Hackett’s profession in The Day of the Locust?PainterScreenwriterSet DesignerActorC
Which character is an aspiring actress?Faye GreenerAudrey JenkinsMary DoveJoan CrawfordA
What symbolizes the destructive end of the characters’ dreams?The Hollywood SignTod’s Painting “The Burning of Los Angeles”A movie premiereThe San Bernardino MountainsB
Where is Homer Simpson from?New YorkOhioIowaCaliforniaC
What does Hollywood represent in the novel?The fulfillment of the American DreamA land of opportunity and happinessThe illusion of the American DreamA place of honest hard work and integrityC
Who is the novel’s protagonist obsessed with?Harry GreenerFaye GreenerHomer SimpsonAbe KusichB
What major event symbolizes the eruption of pent-up frustrations?A film premiereA party at Faye’s houseA riot during a Hollywood premiereTod’s art exhibitionC
Which character represents the outside perspective of Hollywood?Tod HackettHomer SimpsonFaye GreenerAbe KusichB
What literary device is used extensively by Nathanael West in the novel?MetaphorAlliterationOnomatopoeiaHyperboleA
What theme is central to The Day of the Locust?The pursuit of happinessThe American Dream and its disillusionmentFriendship and loyaltyThe importance of familyB

This quiz covers key aspects of The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, testing comprehension of the book’s plot, characters, themes, and literary devices.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from The Day of the Locust:

“Tod watched as the chaotic swarm of Hollywood dreamers danced under the cruel sun, their shadows twisting grotesquely on the cracked pavement. In their feverish whirl, he saw not individuals, but a single entity consumed by its own desperate desires. The sun, a merciless eye, bore witness to the spectacle, casting an apocalyptic glow over the scene. This was no mere gathering; it was a macabre ballet, a dance of the damned, choreographed by the very dreams that drove them to despair.”


  1. Metaphor: The comparison of the crowd to a “single entity consumed by its own desperate desires” suggests a loss of individuality and the overwhelming power of collective disillusionment.
  2. Personification: The sun is given human qualities, described as a “merciless eye” that witnesses the scene, adding a sense of judgment and omnipresence to the natural element.
  3. Imagery: Vivid descriptions of the “chaotic swarm,” “shadows twisting grotesquely,” and the “apocalyptic glow” create a vivid visual scene that emphasizes the desperation and doom of the setting.
  4. Symbolism: The “macabre ballet” symbolizes the dance of life, particularly the darker, more desperate aspects of human existence in Hollywood. It represents the characters’ tragic attempts to achieve their dreams, only to be ensnared in a cycle of despair.
  5. Alliteration: The phrase “dance of the damned” uses alliteration to create a rhythmic quality that underscores the hopelessness of the characters’ situation.

This exercise highlights the complexity of Nathanael West’s writing and his use of literary devices to deepen the thematic impact of The Day of the Locust.