The Day of the Locust has garnered an amazing amount of attention. A Google search produces mentions on some 160,000 sites. Extensive information -- including chapter summaries, character analysis, interpretive essays, study questions, even lesson plans and multiple-choice quizzes -- is available online. It’s been the subject of at least 40 dissertations or theses. Scholarly interest continues strong, showing up in articles with titles like “Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust: A Metonymy of Modernist Anxiety in America.” Yikes!
The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West. Random House (1939), 238 pp.
Aspiring artist Tod Hackett works as a studio set and costume designer. He’s moved into a downscale apartment building, but not because of the recommendation of bookie Abe Kusich, a belligerent dwarf. What sold him on the place was a glimpse of Faye Greener, a teenage sexpot who lives with her sickly father, Harry, on the second floor. Tod develops a hopeless crush on Faye, but he’s not her only suitor. Also interested is Homer Simpson (!), a phlegmatic and sexually repressed ex-accountant who lives down the street. Later other men appear, including tall and uninterestingly handsome Earle Shoop, a part-time cowboy.
Weighed down by acquired importance, the book might seem a dubious choice for optional reading. Actually, however, it’s not only accessible but engaging from start to finish. Its characters, all displaced persons in one way or another, aren’t exactly likeable, but they aren’t unsympathetic either. Their interactions are slightly off kilter but never incomprehensible. West’s fondness for symbol and metaphor doesn’t clog his writing, which is always simple and straightforward. The story isn’t upbeat, but it doesn’t elicit a uniform response. Some readers might find it dishearteningly grim, while others see it as darkly humorous. Amazingly, they can give it a try online. The Australian Project Gutenberg has the whole book available free.