Study Guide

The Day of the Locust Art and Culture

By Nathanael West

Art and Culture

Chapter 1

They were the people he felt he must paint. He would never again do a fat red barn, old stone wall or sturdy Nantucket fisherman. (1.11)

Although Tod's passion for painting started plummeting as soon as he graduated from art school, he finds himself reinvigorated by the weirdos and nutjobs littered along the Sunset Strip. It's like he hit the jackpot of artistic inspiration.

The pleasures [...] had decreased as [...] he realized that he was going [...] toward illustration or mere handsomeness. (1.12)

Tod is frustrated by the clichéd nature of most modern paintings. Think about it this way—Tod wants to create something as impactful as "Starry Night," while his peers are content with painting dogs sitting around a poker table.

When the Hollywood job had come along, he had grabbed it despite the arguments of his friends who were certain that he was selling out and would never paint again. (1.12)

At this point in his life, Tod is pretty okay with selling out. Whatever puts bread on the table, right? Luckily for him, however, he discovers that Los Angeles is filled with a wealth of artistic inspiration. Okay, so it's not exactly the prettiest or most polite inspiration in the world, but we're pretty sure that Tod doesn't mind one bit.

Chapter 2

Despite the sincere indignation that Abe's grotesque depravity aroused in him, he welcomed his company. The little man [...] made him feel certain of his need to paint. (2.11)

What do you think it is about Abe that Tod finds so inspirational? Is it his seemingly boundless stores of energy? Is it his feisty attitude, more pugnacious than that of a pit bull pup? Or is it just that little people make good subjects for paintings?

Chapter 13

In "The Burning of Los Angeles" Faye is the naked girl in the left foreground being chased by the group of men and women who have separated from the main body of the mob. (13.38)

As we learn over the course of the novel, "The Burning of Los Angeles" is Tod's masterpiece. It contains references to practically every aspect of his Hollywood life, including his obsession with Faye, his friendship with Abe, and his compassion for Homer Simpson. Because of this, we look at the painting as Tod's way of coping with his stressful life.

Chapter 14

He told himself that it didn't make any difference because he was an artist, not a prophet. [...] Nevertheless he refused to give up the role of Jeremiah. (14.137)

As he continues work on "The Burning of Los Angeles," Tod starts going a little bit crazy. No longer is the fire that burns Los Angeles a metaphor—now he sees it as a prediction of future calamities. Although the foolishness of this belief is not lost on him, Tod is unable to fully push it from his mind.

Chapter 19

He shut the portfolio that held the drawings he had made of her, tied it with a string, and put it away in his trunk. (19.120)

This is Tod's method for getting over Faye, and it actually works pretty well. It also confirms to us that Tod's art amplifies his feelings (whether he realizes it or not) in some borderline unhealthy ways.

Chapter 27

After his quarrel with Faye, he had worked on it continually to escape tormenting himself, and the way to it in his mind had become almost automatic. (27.80)

This makes us think that Tod never really gets over Faye—instead, he simply shifts his obsession from her to his painting. Works well, sure, but it's not too healthy. In this way, Tod has practically become one of the people who inspired him to paint—a person who comes to Hollywood with big hopes only to see them disappointed.

Despite the agony in his leg, he was able to think clearly about his picture, "The Burning of Los Angeles." (27.80)

To be honest, we never see Tod actually work on "The Burning of Los Angeles." Instead, we only see him imagine working on it in order to avoid thinking about something else. Why do you think that is? Is he just another one of those people who come to California to die?

For the faces of its members, he was using [...] the people who come to California to die [...] who can only be stirred by the promise of miracles and then only to violence. (27.81)

Tod gets up close and personal with these people who come to California to die during the riot that closes the book. It's actually quite odd—the riot is a close parallel to the scene depicted in "The Burning of Los Angeles." Maybe the dude is a prophet, after all. Or maybe it's his artistic vision that helps him see what's really going on under the surface among the denizens of L.A.