Presentation Title

The Grotesque in the Grotesque City: An Analysis of West’s The Day of the Locust

Faculty Mentor

Clare Rolens

Start Date

23-11-2019 9:30 AM

End Date

23-11-2019 9:45 AM

Location

Markstein 201

Session

oral 1

Type of Presentation

Oral Talk

Subject Area

humanities_letters

Abstract

Nathanael West’s satirical 1939 novel, The Day of the Locust, utilizes various elements of the grotesque to critique the culture, or lack thereof, of 1930’s Los Angeles. The essay identifies and analyzes two levels of the grotesque: one of character and one of setting. The first is a traditional depiction of the grotesque as distorted humans; such as the short-tempered dwarf Abe Kusich. The second is a metaphysical variety of the grotesque that focuses on the distorted architecture and contemporary culture of 1930s Los Angeles. Hollywood’s aggressive usurpation of various architectural styles and eras has resulted in a grandiose and distorted cityscape, for example; a reproduction of a Southern plantation house replica (complete with an occupant referring to his Chinese servant as a “black rascal” ) or an oblong building adorned with Pink Moorish columns. West also notes that the vast majority of Los Angeles' film sets, composed of plaster, are fragile and prone to collapse (which does occur). In West's world, few structures are real or what they claim to be, and the reader must sort out what is genuine and what is merely an imitation or an actor. In a city where people dress in yachting clothes to go shopping, Norfolk jackets for a day at the office, and frequently struggle to switch between the professional roles they play and personality; this can be difficult. By juxtaposing grotesque comic outcasts against a background of distorted grandiosity; West investigates what is real and what is empty in Tinsel-Town and ultimately reveals Los Angeles to be a town made of "plaster and paper" that is devoid of original culture.

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Nov 23rd, 9:30 AM Nov 23rd, 9:45 AM

The Grotesque in the Grotesque City: An Analysis of West’s The Day of the Locust

Markstein 201

Nathanael West’s satirical 1939 novel, The Day of the Locust, utilizes various elements of the grotesque to critique the culture, or lack thereof, of 1930’s Los Angeles. The essay identifies and analyzes two levels of the grotesque: one of character and one of setting. The first is a traditional depiction of the grotesque as distorted humans; such as the short-tempered dwarf Abe Kusich. The second is a metaphysical variety of the grotesque that focuses on the distorted architecture and contemporary culture of 1930s Los Angeles. Hollywood’s aggressive usurpation of various architectural styles and eras has resulted in a grandiose and distorted cityscape, for example; a reproduction of a Southern plantation house replica (complete with an occupant referring to his Chinese servant as a “black rascal” ) or an oblong building adorned with Pink Moorish columns. West also notes that the vast majority of Los Angeles' film sets, composed of plaster, are fragile and prone to collapse (which does occur). In West's world, few structures are real or what they claim to be, and the reader must sort out what is genuine and what is merely an imitation or an actor. In a city where people dress in yachting clothes to go shopping, Norfolk jackets for a day at the office, and frequently struggle to switch between the professional roles they play and personality; this can be difficult. By juxtaposing grotesque comic outcasts against a background of distorted grandiosity; West investigates what is real and what is empty in Tinsel-Town and ultimately reveals Los Angeles to be a town made of "plaster and paper" that is devoid of original culture.