Summary and Analysis Chapter 4


This chapter presents the novel's first fully dramatized and continuous scene, using a Hollywood party for unity and as a device to broaden West's bitter, satiric portrait of the Hollywood milieu. Claude Estee, at whose imitation Mississippi mansion Tod attends a party, is the only true Hollywood "success" in the novel, but he too is a satirical figure, whose spiritual seediness is exaggerated by his deliberate role playing. Estee's pretense that his Chinese servant is a plantation black, and the grotesque imitation dead horse in his swimming pool are attempts at frivolity that produce no gaiety in anyone.

Estee is completely cynical about the movie industry. During his shoptalk with fellow filmmakers, he mocks ignorant industry leaders who make money but won't take the time to put up a fraudulent, philanthropic "front." And his conversation with Tod reveals that, for him, all human experience is merely material for film scripts. Claude's pretended happiness with his artificial world is paralleled by Joan Schwartzen's pretended grief over Tod's indifference to the rubber horse in the swimming pool and her exaggerated interest in overhearing dirty stories.

These people act as if they are enjoying their giddy, sybaritic lives, but, actually they are bored, a theme related to West's motif of underlying violence which is always implicit in the Hollywood milieu. This connection is made clearer later when Estee attends a cockfight simply because he wants to have a new experience. In this chapter's concluding dialogue, Estee praises Mrs. Jenning's whorehouse as a "triumph of skillful packaging," which gives Tod a chance to attack commercialized sex by comparing it to the ability to turn love into a vending machine, a place for deposit. Tod, however, seems well aware that his desire for Faye is a mechanical burden that might be relieved by such an action. Perhaps he is turning his criticism of commercialized sex into a confession that he is really no better than anyone else in the Hollywood world. Hypocritically enough, he and Estee are on their way to Mrs. Jenning's brothel when the chapter ends, but once there, they do not pursue any sexual relief.

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