Summary and Analysis Chapter 5


The action here is continuous with the preceding scene, as Tod, Claude, and others arrive at the brothel. West, however, divides this chapter into three basic parts: a description of Mrs. Jenning, the frustrating, interrupted showing of a pornographic film, and, by chance, Tod's seeing a prostitute friend of Faye's and his sudden hope that Faye might also be a prostitute. Mrs. Jenning is a kind and polite madam, concerned for her girls and her customers. Pretending that her business is right and natural, she adds a thin, but polished veneer to a degrading profession. The pornographic film, Le Predicament de Marie, is a satirical comment on Mrs. Jenning's pretensions, and the film projectionist is an arty and ineffectual type, who speaks of the film as "marvelous" and "too exciting," an attitude that in our day would be called "campy."

The brothel's viciousness, contained within a glittering package, is a parallel to the film's portrayal of the lasciviousness that festers in a "respectable family." The sexual desires in the film — or at least in the fantasies which the film appeals to — are what psychoanalysts have termed polymorphous perversity, and West may be using this perversion to imply that everyone's sexual desires are actually like those in the film. The breaking of the film and the audience's frustrations at not seeing its conclusion is West's way of satirically showing us how both sexual teasing and sex are commercial products; this, in turn, provides a transition to Tod's renewed hopes of possessing Faye. The mini-demonstration of frustration when the film breaks foreshadows the riot at the novel's end. In fact, this entire chapter subtly makes the point that Tod is becoming part of the Hollywood milieu, a process symbolized by his desire to eventually, literally, buy Faye.

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