The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
In The Day of the Locust, Tod Hackett undergoes an internal development relative to his migration. Tod, an architect living in Connecticut, moves out to Hollywood to build scenery for movies. Yet, once he moves, Tod is transformed into a lethargic, non-artist who can no longer create his own drawings on paper. His surroundings drive these changes, as all characters in the novel are depicted in a similar fashion. Tod becomes one of the grotesque as well, laughing at the disturbing rather than the humorous. These new features signal Tod’s incapacity to return to his old self, as he constantly suffers from his migration. This comes full circle at the end of the novel when Tod is led away from the mob scene at the Hollywood premiere:
“He was carried through the exit to the back street and lifted into a police car. The siren began to scream and at first he thought he was making the noise himself. He felt his lips with his hands. They were clamped tight. He knew then it was the siren. For some reason this made him laugh and he began to imitate the siren as loud as he could.” (185)
This excerpt depicts Tod’s migration in full: from an active artist to a grotesque and lazy Californian who will never recover from his experience.
Tod’s movement into the police car parallels his transformation to laziness in Los Angeles. When the National Films talent scout carries him off to Hollywood to learn set and costume design, Tod disregards the unusual fact that he is “hired by telegram” rather than in person (60). This provides a clue early in the novel into the indolent nature of Los Angeles that will eventually cause his own laziness. Even after only three months of living in Hollywood, moments of idleness overtake Tod. When deciding whether to walk home or not, he instead chooses to take a streetcar most of the way because he is “lazy and [doesn’t] like to walk” (60). Tod blames this on inertia, as it is becoming easier and more natural for him to do the same things every day in LA. Only when an external force motivates him, like Abe Kusich’s plans for moving do, does Tod actually move anywhere. By the end of the novel, Tod wonders “if he himself [does not] suffer from the ingrained, morbid apathy he [likes] to draw in others” (141). Here, Tod coalesces with the other apathetic Californians; he becomes one of them. These moments culminate in the police car scene when first, the policemen carry him by force to the theatre driveway, and then carry him off in their car. Tod is carried and lifted in this instance; he performs none of the actions but instead, is the receiver of them. Whereas in Connecticut, he took action in his life and studies, in Los Angeles, he can do nothing but that which is done to him.
Tod’s laughter after hearing the siren corresponds to the grotesque laughter that signals his ultimate failure to recover. When first in LA, Tod views the houses around him as comical:...