Los Angeles the Fiction Term Paper

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Los Angeles: The Fiction

Love as a Commodity in the novels of Nathanael West and James Cain

The two novels The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West and Mildred Pierce by James Cain share the common scene of Californian life, around the 1930's. The books also share in their view of this world and especially in the way in which the emotional and sexual relationships between men and women are built.

The emphasis is, in both cases, on the women characters of the novels: Faye Greener in The Day of the Locust and Mildred Pierce and her daughter, Veda, in Cain's novel. However, there are many differences in what regards the characters and life of the female characters.

In The day of the Locust, Nathanael West portrays Los Angeles life, with an emphasis of the glamorous but decadent life of Hollywood. All the characters in the novel are grotesque to a certain extent and all move in what seems to be a fictitious world: that of Hollywood, with its movies and cinema stars. Faye Greener is an actress and a prostitute at the same time, and she is the core of the world she moves in, around whom all the men revolve. Faye represents beauty and moral decadence, not only because of the fact that she sells her beauty, but also because, as it is shown, her beauty is strictly material, devoid of any spiritual or inner quality:

Raging at him, she was still beautiful. That was because her beauty was structural like a tree's, not a quality of her mind or heart. Perhaps even whoring couldn't damage it for that reason, only age or accident or disease. "(West, 89)

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It is this beauty, which as the author suggestively intimates, could not be destroyed by sin or moral depravity, that which attracts all the men in her circle: Tod Hackett, Homer Simpson, Claude Estee, the Mexican Miguel and Earle, and even the dwarf Abe:

Term Paper on Los Angeles the Fiction Assignment

None of them really heard her. They were all too busy watching her smile, laugh, shiver, whisper, grow indignant, cross and uncross her legs, stick out her tongue, widen and narrow her eyes, toss her head so that her platinum hair splashed against the red plush of the chair back. The strange thing about her gestures and expressions was that they didn't really illustrate what she was saying. They were almost pure. It was as though her body recognized how foolish her words were and tried to excite her hearers into being uncritical. It worked that night; no one even thought of laughing at her. The only move they made was to narrow their circle about her." (West, 131)

The beauty that Faye possesses is, not accidentally, the beauty of an actress, an artificial, glamorous ideal of beauty, which has no depth, and which attracts magnetically and mesmerizes, without leaving room for real love. The men around her, especially Tod and Homer, of which the latter actually marries her, vow that they are in love with Faye, but love is here constructed as the typical Hollywood adoration, rather than true affection. The nature of these relationships that establish between Faye and the men around her, speak with exactitude of the world that the author introduces us in. It is a world reminiscent of Coleridge Kubla Khan, as West suggests towards the end of the story:

When still a block from the theatre, he saw an enormous electric sign that hung over the middle of the street. In letters ten feet high he read that-- 'MR. KAHN A PLEASURE DOME DECREED'. (West, 154)

The imagery contained in the last pages of the novel is remarkably suggestive: West gives the description of the mob waiting in front of a theatre for the celebrities. The outmost confusion and the savage bustling of the mass of people, all fascinated and drawn by the same event- the arrival of some actors and actresses, portrays the nature of the Los Angeles world, and of its Hollywood cult.

The pleasure dome symbol is supplemented by the elements of an imagery of hell: Los Angeles is described like a hell on earth, and this is becomes obvious both from the details of the description of the picture that Tod had made of Los Angeles, and which he had entitled "The Burning of Los Angeles."

The image of the crowd is similar to that of the praying locusts, which was probably, the image that suggested West's title. In this Hollywood hell-like scene, people move about grotesquely, urged by lust and idolatry. The praise evinces for external beauty and glamour is clearly the common denominator for all the mob:

Although it was still several hours before the celebrities would arrive, thousands of people had already gathered. They stood facing the theatre with their backs toward the gutter in a thick line hundreds of feet long. A big squad of policemen was trying to keep a lane open between the front rank of the crowd and the facade of the theatre. [...]Tod had walked only a short distance along the narrow lane when he began to get frightened. People shouted, commenting on his hat, his carriage, and his clothing. There was a continuous roar of catcalls, laughter and yells, pierced occasionally by a scream. The scream was usually followed by a sudden movement in the dense mass and part of it would surge forward wherever the police line was weakest. As soon as that part was rammed back, the bulge would pop out somewhere else. The police force would have to be doubled when the stars started to arrive. At the sight of their heroes and heroines, the crowd would turn demoniac. "

The Los Angeles scene is viewed therefore as a world of lust and prostitution, in which material and artificial values have replaced the true values. This world is that which really inspires Tod in his drawings of "mystery and decay":

He had lately begun to think not only of Goya and Daumier but also of certain Italian artists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, of Salvator Rosa, Francesco Guardi and Monsu Desiderio, the painters of Decay and Mystery. Looking down hill now, he could see compositions that might have actually been arranged from the Calabrian work of Rosa. There were partially demolished buildings and broken monuments, half hidden by great, tortured trees, whose exposed roots writhed dramatically in the arid ground, and by shrubs that carried, not flowers or berries, but armories of spikes, hooks and swords. "

The art described above is the one that best suits the Los Angeles as well. In it, decay and depravity culminate. Love is depicted like a mere commodity. Faye earns her money by working in a brothel, and Tod feels that in the Hollywood world, love is no more than a vending machine:

Love is like a vending machine, the? Not bad. You insert a coin and press home the lever. There's some mechanical activity inside the bowels of the device. You receive a small sweet, frown at yourself in the dirty mirror, adjust your hat, take a firm grip on your umbrella and walk away, trying to look as though nothing had happened, It's good, but it's not for pictures." (West, 17) similar case of love and emotional exchange and a similar central female appear in Cain's Mildred Pierce. Here, Mildred, like Faye, oscillates between two men, Bret and Monty, the former and the present husband. She is a housewife, trying to manage her family during the difficult times of the Great Depression. As it has been many times commented by the critics, the core of the novel is formed by the relationship between Mildred and her daughter Veda. Mildred's exaggerate affection for her daughter, is another form of unnatural and idolatrous love, resembling the Hollywood cult for celebrity as depicted in West's novel.

Faye and Mildred differ widely in the aspects of their lives- Faye is merely a prostitute and an actress looking for fame and money, cruelly playing with the men who surround her, while Mildred is a hard-working mother, devoted to her family, and especially to her daughter. However, the two female protagonists do have something in common: first of all, Mildred's job as a waitress is another form of prostitution, and her excessive love for her daughter is, to a great extent a form of narcissism and selfishness, not entirely different from Faye's feelings.

If in West's novel the crowd and the individuals are dominated by lust and the celebrity cult, Cain's book displays a not altogether different aspect of Californian life. As critics have observed, the most poignant fact about Mildred's life is the way in which the economical crisis, as well as new cult of mass-production influence her private life. Thus, Cain presents just a slightly different mass phenomenon that affects the emotional exchanges between the characters. Family life is highlighted here, and the way in which Mildred is affected by her career, as the manager if a… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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