Summary and Analysis Chapter 27


In this chapter there is a release in the terrible spring that was wound up inside Homer, and there is a parallel eruption of the Hollywood masses into violence. All this action is narrated from Tod's point of view, and we see repetitions, changes, and complications in his attitude toward preceding actions and toward many of the aspects of Hollywood life that he has reflected on throughout the novel. With great skill, West uses a mob scene outside a movie premiere at Kahn's Persian Palace to stage Homer's destruction, and Tod's final, almost-demented response to the Hollywood world.

The Hollywood mob consists of the same desperate watchers mentioned frequently throughout the novel. Now they are actually promised a chance to see their dreamland heroes. They are angry, poor, bored, cheated, and violent, and at last they get a chance to release their resentments. They do this largely by assaulting one another, and, at the same time, they denounce the lewdness which they love. Thus they can talk murderously of lynching perverts as they press up against one another and enjoy talking about sexual assault. The police put up a facade of politeness, but privately they beat up arrested people.

When Homer stumbles in a trance into this mob, on his way to the railroad station to go home to Iowa, Tod acts more protectively of Homer than at any time earlier. But he is powerless to save Homer. His good intentions are not enough. The mob atmosphere makes it impossible for Tod to restrain or redirect Homer, and the appearance of Adore Loomis seals both Adore's and Homer's doom. Adore plays a manipulative game with Homer, using a purse on a string, but Homer is no longer capable of being manipulated, and when Adore lets out his aggression by throwing a stone at Homer (think of how Adore himself has been bottled up!), Homer retaliates by stomping Adore to death. Homer is getting back at Adore as a symbol of the Hollywood milieu: nasty, deceitful, manipulative, and always acting. Homer is probably also revenging himself symbolically on Faye. Adore acts meanly and mechanically, and the scene resembles an over-matched cockfight as Homer stomps repeatedly on Adore's back.

As if this weren't a shock great enough to drive Tod half out of his mind, he finds himself swept along by the murderous crowd, he witnesses a near-rape of a young girl by two men, and then he has a leg badly injured, possibly broken. He is horrified by all he sees, and he tries desperately to save the girl from the first of the men who assault her. This is the same Tod who had repeatedly fantasized about raping Faye. As he is carried away by the mob, he observes their frantic sexual aggressiveness and the hypocrisy in their combining lust with puritanical outcries. Tod is at last seeing much of what he had been imagining for his painting of the burning of Los Angeles, so it is natural that he thinks of this painting while in the grip of the mob. His earlier thoughts of the painting have suggested that it served as a catharsis for his lusts and aggressions, those he has for the apocalypse which he has wanted to paint. Now that a miniature version of this apocalypse has arrived, Tod's thoughts about his painting show more compassion and ambivalence. In his painting, he describes the crowd as wild, cruel, and murderous, but he still thinks of them as "poor devils." He imagines Faye, Harry, Homer, Claude, and himself in the vanguard of the mob — they are fleeing from the crowd behind them. They are both a part of the mob and also its victims, implying that they are also victims of themselves. Tod's portrayal of himself picking up a stone identifies him thematically with the ill-fated Adore, and suggests that he is both aggressor and victim. Harry, Homer, and Claude are also in threatened postures, but Faye, who runs proudly, has not changed her role. As always, she is somehow above it all and enjoying the havoc which she has helped create. Faye remains the icy sensationalist, an absolute victim of the Hollywood dream — that is, she is completely without morals, and almost innocent in her blindly manipulative lusts. Tod's desire to rape her has represented both anger at her falsity and a desire to share the pleasures of amorality.

The novel ends on a horrifying note. Tod is screaming mindlessly in imitation of the siren of the police car that has come to his rescue. This scream represents a hysterical release of the frustration and horror which he has never quite been able to put into words. Possibly it also signifies some realization of his own participation in the spirit that produced this violence. At the end, he tries to act with true good will towards Homer and the girl who was being assaulted, but he was powerless to help them. Now he can't help himself, and one wonders if his long-planned painting will be realized, or remain only the memory of a hopeful ambition. West's novel dramatizes the mixed feelings that would have gone into such a painting.

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