Summary and Analysis Chapter 17


The preceding chapter dramatizes how Tod's pretended interest in Harry conceals his pursuit of Faye. In Chapter 17, that theme becomes much more explicit. On the day of Harry's funeral, Tod is drunk — not out of concern for the dead Harry, but out of increasing desperation that Faye is slipping from his grasp, for if she will sell herself to strangers but refuse him, then his case is hopeless. At the funeral, Faye is playing a new role, for she has taken the occasion to make herself dazzlingly beautiful in a tight, new dress, and her studied sobs are a flirtation with her audience.

In his dialogue with Faye, Tod continues his struggle with her which he began in the previous chapter, and his full despair is now revealed as he attempts to dissuade her from prostitution. Harry's funeral expands West's satire against Hollywood sensation-seekers, as well as those people who stare relentlessly at everything around them. These are the mob in Tod's apocalyptic vision. There is an air of foreboding as Tod notices that the crowd in the back is suddenly leaving, probably rushing off to see a movie star, a motif which predicts the riot at the novel's end. The playing of a chorale by Bach, related through Tod's consciousness, makes him aware of the irrelevance of Christian love for the world around him. The congregation/audience has no interest in the music's bidding, and the chorale stops instantly at a wave from the officious Mrs. Johnson. The viewing of Harry's corpse introduces more variations on sensational staring. The Eskimo family, people who have genuine feelings for Harry, must be restrained from excessive viewing, whereas those who hold back timidly must be thrust forward by Mrs. Johnson. This chapter presents a series of vignettes, emphasizing the selfishness of the thrill-seekers and their indifference to the dead and the living, except as objects of sensational emotion or sensual satisfaction.

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