Nathanael West’s novel, The Day of the Locust, depicts the story of the lives of people who live in the fantasies of their dreams. They dream of a life full of luxury with lots of money to crown their happiness, yet such a life seems unachievable. This creates a phenomenon that the author of the novel calls the ‘half worlds’. This paper explores how the West creates the ‘half worlds’ and its meaning.
West creates the half worlds through his characterization and use of imagery. The main characters in the book seem to live a life of fantasies far from the life that they expected to live. The main character in the novel, Tod Hackett, who has graduated from the Yale school of arts where he studied painting moves to California in search of a better life.
In California, he expects to live a smooth life simply out of the city’s external image, but when he gets there, he does not experience any of it. On the streets, he notices that nothing in the city was as he expected. He is keen to watch the dress code for several people. He says that “The fat lady in the yachting cap was going shopping, not boating; the man in the Nor fork jacket and the Tyrolean hat was returning, not from a mountain but from…” (1).The people he sees in the street are not what they portray in the outside.
Tod takes a designing job in Hollywood, which he thought would help him make his dreams come true. As the story unfolds, his life in Hollywood becomes fruitless. Instead, he lives in a continuous threat of failure while he tries to fulfill his personal dreams among the lower classes of Hollywood. He got a job with Hollywood yet it did not help him live his dream life-a ‘half-world’.
Faye, one of the main characters of the story seems to have a life experience like that of Tod. She dreams in starring in Hollywood but this did not come to reality. Despite getting a chance to act in one of Hollywood’s movies, Faye did not deliver. West reports that in her sole movie role, as a dancing girl in Harem, she did not play her role properly. She only had one sentence to say which she said badly. In this, the writer shows that Faye, as many people in American society have great ambitions which they are incapable of attaining.
She dreams of becoming a star in Hollywood yet she cannot say a single sentence properly –she cannot meet the requirements of a simple actor. She uses her good looks and turns her own life into a movie, which she fears she will never star. The writer also notes that Faye’s suitors do not meet all her requirements of being either too handsome or too rich. Homer had the money but lacked good looks while Tod lacked money. Eventually, she becomes a prostitute since she never meets the man who completely matches her taste.
Homer is the other character that the writer has employed in creating the ‘half worlds’ in his novel. Homer seems to enjoy his life but the writer portrays him in a way that is not enjoyable to any ordinary person. He used to sit in an old broken deck chair holding a tattered book, which he was not even reading. His desperation for a good lifestyle made him imitate the lives of other people yet he could not meet the standards-he could only afford a broken chair and an old tattered book.
He also fantasizes about having Faye as his girlfriend but as the story unfolds, we learn that it was a dream that he did not achieve-he could not have her despite all his efforts. After Faye rejects her, he suffers a nervous breakdown that causes a scenario that enables Tod to complete his painting ‘The Burning of Los Angeles’. This painting gives a picture of the lives of people who move to the urban centers for better lives but end up being miserable.
The painting represented the frustration as well as the anger of many people who moved to Los Angeles with high expectations of the satisfactory Promised Land, the place full of opportunities. Contrary to their expectations, they realized that life in the city locked them of not only the glamour but also the riches that they sought.
They experienced a life of lack and struggles in trying to achieve the lives that they yearned to live. Most of them live pitiable lives consumed by fantasies. In spite of the fact that they live in the cities and even work for the renowned company, Hollywood, they are not able to attain the seemingly perfect life that urban places such as California and Los Angeles seem to have.
Nathanael West’s ‘half worlds’ mean the fantasies that people live in due to their inability to achieve their dreams. Such people yearn to live as other people who they think have enjoyable lives, from their image in society, yet they cannot work hard enough to have such lives. Their fantasies can make them look for better places of work but if one does not apply the required efforts and endure the hardships, they will never meet their goals. West’s ‘half worlds’ are the false illusions that people have about life.