Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hollers- Federal Building

“I dreamed I was lying in the middle of Main Street downtown in front of the Federal Building and two poor peckerwoods in overalls were standing over me beating me with lengths of rubber hose. I was sore and numb from the beating and felt like vomiting; I was sick in the stomach and the taste was in my mouth… I was hoping I would become unconscious but I couldn’t. Then I felt myself rolling over in bed, struggling with the covers, but I couldn’t wake up, and the dream kept right on with the two peckerwoods beating me not quite to death” (69).

If He Hollers Let Him Go begins with Bob’s description of his dreams (see page 1). Bob’s dreams are continuously weaved into the body of the novel. In this dream, two white men, following the orders of the president of the shipyard corporation, beat Bob with a rubber hose. In response to the suggestion that Bob can no longer handle further beating, the president says, “ ‘Niggers can take it as long as you give it to them’ ” (69). The white man becomes the “giver” and the black man is supposed to be the passive receiver, capable of taking all of the abuse that the white man gives him. When two people walk by the Federal Building, Bob explains, “I tried to tell the coloured people what he [the president of the shipyard corporation] had been doing before they came but my voice wouldn’t come out and they just looked at him as if he was a good kind god and said, ‘Yassuh, some of these heah boys do git out of their place’" (70).” The witnesses of this crime passively receive the president’s explanation— they “take it as long as you give it to them.” Bob desperately wants to give these witnesses access to the truth, but his voice does not come. He is unable to unmask the racism that nearly kills him (in his dreams and arguably outside of them).

Bob importantly hopes to “become unconscious” but cannot. Consciousness and dreaming are important themes in If He Hollers Let Him Go. Even while dreaming—even while technically unconscious—Bob is conscious of the violence of inequality. Racism invades his waking life as well as his sleeping life. Bob felt himself “…rolling over in bed, struggling with the covers, but… couldn’t wake up, and the dream kept right on with the two peckerwoods beating me not quite to death” (70). In his dreams, Bob wishes to be unconscious yet while he sleeps he desires to wake up. The barrier between nightmare and reality is broken down. This broken barrier asks a question that resurfaces again and again in Himes' novel: how will Bob escape his nightmarish reality?

The Federal Building, the president of the shipyard corporation, and the presence of police act as markers of institutionalized racism. Racism invades not only dreams, but shipyards, war politics, and every level of government authority.

Hollers- Santa Anita Racetrack Assembly Center

“Maybe it had started then, I’m not sure, or maybe it wasn’t until I’d seen them send the Japanese away that I’d noticed it. Little Riki Oyana singing ‘God Bless America’ and going to Santa Anita with his parents next day. It was taking a man up by the roots and locking him up without a chance. Without a trial. Without a charge. Without even giving him a chance to say one word. It was thinking about if they ever did that to me, Robert Jones, Mrs. Jones’s dark son, that started me getting scared” (3).

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The Executive Order authorized the removal and internment of over 110,000 Japanese Americans. Throughout Chester Himes' novel, the character Bob relates the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II to his personal reality and feeling of entrapment.

Japanese Americans like the character Riki Oyana were sent to the Santa Anita Racetrack Assembly Center before being transferred to relocation centers.

Photographs of the Santa Anita Racetrack:

Map of Japanese American Imprisonment During World War II:

Hollers - Madge's Apartment

This area of Los Angeles, despite its poverty, is still a white district off limits to Bob (when he stepped into a bar “everyone in the joint got on their muscle” (139)). The scene is one of the novel’s turning points, one of the many times it builds to violence only to relent.

The dialogue here references the greater geographical distinction between the west and the south. Madge yells that just being alone in a room with a white woman would “get you lynched in Texas.” Bob counters with “this ain’t Texas” (147). Is he right? Are there any differences between the Los Angeles of If He Hollers Let Him Go and “the south”? If so, is it any better?

Hollers - Little Tokyo

The mention of Little Tokyo, of course, references the Japanese internment. After the removal of Japanese residents the area became known as Bronzeville for a brief time (because of the new African-American population). Japanese residents moved back after the war. The later discussion between Alice’s socialite friends references “the Little Tokyo problem” (82) – i.e. the lack of integration in the area’s new ghetto. The portrayal of Little Tokyo in the book points to a binary geographical definition of race. Although some distinction exists between the areas for blacks and Asians, their most defining characteristic is their lack of whiteness. Both can rotate through areas like Little Tokyo but neither can live in the white areas.,_Los_Angeles,_California

The scene in the bar is fascinating because it displays racial issues through the lens of gender. I thought of Frantz Fanon when reading this chapter. Fanon, a black Martiniquan educated in psychiatry, is best known for Wretched of the Earth (a book that develops a theory for decolonization). Before, though, he wrote Black Skin White Masks, a larger work about black consciousness and identity. Take this excerpt about the sexual objectification of black males: “[Women] endowed the Negro with powers that other men (husbands, transient lovers) did not have. And besides there was also an element of perversion, the persistence of infantile formations: God knows how they make love! It must be terrifying” (158). Then this passage about the white male response: “Since his ideal is an infinite virility, is there not a phenomenon of diminution in relation to the Negro, who is viewed as a penis symbol? Is the lynching of the Negro not a sexual revenge?... Is the Negro’s superiority real? Everyone knows that it is not. But that is not what matters.” (159)

A Fanonian reading of the text would conclude that issues of virility and masculinity are tied up in almost every interaction. The white woman in this scene flirts because of the sexual objectification described above. Her white friends are uncomfortable because they want to protect her but also because they feel the threat to their masculinity. This same sentiment makes Mac eager to punish Bob for insulting Madge. It would make the people in Madge’s apartment building “call the police and have [Bob] arrested on general principles” (139) if he were to enter the lobby. Interestingly, Fanon refers directly If He Hollers Let Him Go as an example of this mix of racial and gender issues. “Basically,” he writes, “does this fear of rape [by a black man] not itself cry out for rape?... In If He Hollers Let Him Go, Chester Himes describes this type very well. The big blonde trembles whenever the Negro goes near her. Yet she has nothing to fear, since the factory is full of white men. In the end, she and the Negro go to bed together.” (156)

Fanon obviously read the text with a certain bias. Nonetheless, his reading is interesting.

Hollers - Alice's Friend's House

After the incident in Santa Monica the two return to a friendlier neighborhood. “I followed Alice into the small, cramped room, wondering how she knew such people; they were more the kind of people I should know” (65). This scene exposes a number of divisions among the characters in the novel. We get statements of gender difference (“‘Men are such boors,’ Alice commented acidly (66)), of racial difference (Bob’s descriptions of everyone’s skin color (65)) and finally, of difference in sexual orientation. Himes only hints at Alice’s lesbianism here but the issue becomes explosive later in the novel.

Hollers - Santa Monica/ S. Monica Station

Bob and Alice get pulled over and their race becomes a problem. Alice tries to assert her “white” characteristics (“enunciating each syllable with careful deliberation”). In the end, though, they get arrested and taken to the police station in Santa Monica. Once again, we see a part of L.A. where Bob and Alice aren’t allowed. “I put up cash bail and the desk sergeant said, “Now get back where you belong and stay there” (64).

Hollers - White Man's Home

“At Alameda Street [the car] turned north into Compton and two of the riders in back got out, leaving my boy alone. When it stopped before a house in Huntington Park I rolled up and parked right behind it. My boy got out…He glanced idly at my car, took two steps towards the house, then wheeled about and stared into my eyes. His eyes stretched with a stark incredulity and his face went stiff white, like wrinkled paper. He stood rigid, half turned, as if frozen to the spot” (44).

It makes sense that this scene of (threatened) racial violence would take place in Huntington Park. “Huntington Park was an almost exclusively white community during most of its history; Alameda Street and Slauson Avenue, which were fiercely defended segregation lines in the 1950s, separated it from black areas.” Bob truly would have been an outsider (and seen as an invader) when he drove into Huntington Park. In addition, the area was first incorporated as a suburb for industrial workers in Los Angeles’ factories. Many of Atlas Steel’s white workers would have lived in this area, on the frontlines of racial tension.

It’s interesting that racial identity is reaffirmed through the threat of violence. When he sees Bob, the man’s face takes on the qualities of his race (stiff, white). One could even think of the characters in the scene, then, as fulfilling their roles in the racial conflict. Bob plays the role that white society assigns him (the frightening, violent black man) while the white man plays his role in the eyes of the black community (stiff, white).

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Why California is Burning"

In his article "The Fire This Time," Bryan Walsh says, "The question is, why? Fires have always been with us and are one way nature cleans house, burning off dry vegetation and opening up old ground for new growth. So why have these natural events become natural disasters? Why do there seem to be more of them, and when they do strike, why are they ever more catastrophic?" The article, importantly from Time Magazine's "Why California is Burning," addresses some of the questions we talked about in class today.,8599,1675380-2,00.html


Symptoms of Reckless Grafting

I was driving back from Joshua Tree National Park with two friends. We had decided to come back to campus early because the winds were so strong. I smelled something burning. I was about to pull over to the side of the freeway to see if there was anything wrong with my car when I looked towards the horizon. To the left, the sky was a dark grey mess. I turned on the radio. We listened to the news. A fireman was frantically cataloguing the location and intensity of each of the fires. He had never heard of so many fires in one area at one time. I remember thinking two things. First, that I was heading back to Los Angeles just in time for the apocalypse. Second, that Los Angeles literature predicts its own catastrophic future with startling accuracy.
With the exception of a history professor who linked the fires to unsustainable urban planning in a desert landscape, I’ve heard very few people recognize the fires as “symptoms” of reckless grafting. It strikes me as strange that we can so easily avoid asking why it is that our landscape is on fire. Even those of us who did not see the fires, can sense their presence in the air that enters our lungs, can see their destruction falling from the sky in white flakes of ash. Perhaps our numbness is a product of our transience; many of us are just here for a few short years and a disruption of academic life (the allocation of time and energy necessary to understand why this place is the way it is) does not seem worth our investment. Or perhaps it’s that we’re so desensitized to pollution and to disaster that we’ve forgotten the importance of talking about their origin. Kamilah is probably right to suggest that it’s not quite apathy or indifference. Perhaps it’s not even numbness. We certainly acknowledge that Southern California is on fire—but it’s as if we are waiting for someone to tell us how to react or respond. Are we waiting for a narrative to explain the significance of a disaster that we ourselves are actively creating?

-Melissa Weiss

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bad day for fires...

I just wanted to share a few interesting pics. My Dad took this one outside of his studio in Ventura (about 30 miles from Malibu) two weeks ago when Malibu went up in flames. I guess he wanted to show me how eerie it was- he says that in the middle of the day (a little past 2:30 pm, apparently) the sky went from a smoky gray to a dark, bloody red. It was so dark that cars had to turn on their headlights, and ash was falling everywhere. A few hours later, the fire was a little more under control and it was daytime again. His first concern was making sure that his friends in Malibu were O.K. and that nothing burned there locally; otherwise it seemed to me that he saw the fire- like many things in L.A. - as more of a spectacle and a nuisance than anything (similar to when we lived downtown and he repeatedly had to interrupt his workday to move his car because some major film or music video was being shot on our street).

The next day I got an email with "surf n burn" in the subject line, and a brief message: "Heres a few snap shots of the Malibu fire. While the fire was burning the hills the surfing was great." His photos are worth checking out.

Incidentally he wasn't the only one who found a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for recreation in spite of/thanks to the unfolding natural disaster. There's an article in the LA times about it called "Bad day for fires, great day for surfing". The last lines of the article quotes a pretty insightful ten year-old volunteer who was picking up trash on the beach: "They probably care [about the fire], in a way," Sawyer said of his fellow beachgoers. "It's just that they don't want to get too involved in it."

I don't know quite how to describe the reactions to the fire that I've felt and observed here. It's not quite indifference or apathy. Perhaps it's a kind of intentional amnesia, a way of forgetting things as they happen- yet I'm still not sure whether this would be an under- or overstatement. I think the ten year-old described it best-- what is, in my opinion, an authentic and even characteristic L.A. experience.

-Kamilah Willingham

More on the fires...

Great stuff, I discovered just now upon my return from England, from Dana Goodyear in her blog, Postcard from Los Angeles, on the New Yorker website.


A Season of Disaster

On my way back to school after Fall Break, I was able to catch a glimpse of the fires through my tiny airplane window. The presence of smoke added depth to the blackness of the night sky. At first glance, I thought I was looking at the usual lights of the city, twinkling hundreds of feet below. When I realized I was gazing at the flaming trails that had been consuming the landscape for days, I had an eerie feeling. It was surreal to look down on the cause of such destruction. From that height, I was disconnected from the severity of the situation, just mesmerized by what looked like tiny rivers of lava, running through the dark terrain. I struggled to determine where the fires were burning in relation to Pomona. I was unable to find any distinguishing features of the city below that provided any sort of orientation. I know the darkness definitely contributed to this, but it was also indicative of the vastness of LA's sprawl.

The sense of calm produced by the darkness in that empty plane was suddenly lost when the winds disrupted our smooth flight. I found myself clutching my armrests as the plane bumped and dropped and swooped, colliding with the invisible gusts. Looking down on the fires and experiencing the turbulence gave me a terrible sense of disaster. I was no longer safely soaring above the turmoil; I was thrust into it as my plane got closer and closer to Los Angeles.

Exiting the airport, I was overwhelmed by the weight of the smoky air that engulfed me. I was reminded of what we talked about in class, about LA's seasons being represented by natural disasters as opposed to the weather. For me, this experience and current situation of the city seem quite pertinent to that idea. It's hard to imagine that so much disaster could lead to renewal and that this could be a part of LA's natural cycle. Could the people who have lost homes and cherished possessions possibly feel that way? The forces of LA have unfairly stripped them of their physical reminders of the past. They've unwillingly become subject to the amnesia innervating the city. Is this ritual of sweeping away the past what defines LA as a setting? Perhaps the constant changing of the city creates a dynamic that lends itself to the creativity of writers. A city so transient presents countless opportunities for re-creation in story.

-Victoria King

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Orange - Gran Zócalo

The Zócalo is the central plaza of Mexico City, "a point of reference, of protest, of ritual and of national celebration" (see link).

Gabriel describes "convoys of federales, Red Cross trucks, human rights oberservers, United Nations reps, liberation theologians, and press buses crisscrossing each other on the roads to peace and civil war in endless commotion" (pg 193).

Orange - Club Alabam

"History of jazz followed the history of a people, black oppression, race, movement of the race across the Earth, across this country. Ended up here in South Central. Count Basie and the Duke playing on Central Avenue."

Here is where Buzzworm is talking about the importance of jazz in his life. The narrator goes to mention that "once he had you listening to the jazz station, then he'd be talkin to you about personalities, syncopation, improvisation, blues... pretty soon you'd find you getting yourself an education." (pg 103).

Here is some history on the jazz club called the Alabam:

(coutesy of

Situated on "The Block" in the heart of Central Avenue, the Club Alabam served as a central site for the "West Coast Renaissance of Jazz" in Los Angeles. Previously called the Apex Club, the club opened in the Fall of 1928 and was owned by the drummer Curtis Mosby. "Mosby's Blueblowers" provided the house big band that performed for top entertainers like Duke Ellington. Mosby's brother Evan, another Central Avenue fixture, became known as the "unofficial mayor" of Central Avenue (Otis 43). While the Club Alabam faced Central Ave. competition from other "blues incubators" like the Last Word, the Down Beat, Shepp's Playhouse, Watt's Joe Morris's Plantation and the Barrelhouse, locals considered the Club Alabam the classiest establishment on Central Avenue, complete with valet parking and a house chorus-line (Cox 257, Anderson 33-4, 38, Reed 423). The Club Alabam served mainly the black upper-middle class, but it became a popular spot among the black working class as well. Alex Lovejoy owned the "Breakfast Club," the club's second floor room, which served fried chicken, hot biscuits, and drinks from an open bar (Reed 29).

Using his contacts in New York, Chicago, and Hollywood, Mosby promoted and imported musicians for Apex Club shows from all parts of the country. The Apex Club featured singer/dancer showgirls such as the Creole Cuties who performed at both the Apex Club and the Lincoln Theatre, a popular venue during the 1920s where blacks enjoyed movies, late night minstrels, live dancing, comedy, and musical shows. The Lincoln Theater provided the only large venue for entertainment in the black community until the Apex Club opened its doors in 1928.

The Club Alabam catered to the stars of the jazz music world. Celebrities like the two former black heavyweight boxing champions, Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, frequented the Club Alabam and became known as Central Ave. regulars. Joe Louis even used the Club Alabam to train in when he was in Los Angeles. One Central Avenue legend recalls W.C. Fields becoming so inebriated while enjoying a show at the Club Alabam that he unintentionally "integrated" the Dunbar Hotel by falling asleep there (Reed 26, 31). Charlie Parker and Miles Davis once sat in with Johnny Otis's house band at the Club Alabam (Otis 43). Johnny Otis later became the bandleader of the house band at the Club Alabam. Otis, a musician, songwriter, and bandleader, formed a 16 piece group that served as the house band at the Club Alabam during the mid-1940s. Otis' experiences brought him in contact with some of the most important figures in African American life and culture, including Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Art Tatum, and Count Basie. And although the Club Alabam offered nationally renown talent, Otis' performances also provided a constant diversion for both locals and visitors to Central Avenue in the 1940s.

While the end of the war drained money and people away from Central Avenue the Club Alabam continued as a gathering place for blacks. Organizations such as the Recondites Social Club held events at the club and enjoyed singers such as Edythe Carr to the wee hours of the morning.

Orange - Pershing Square

A bit of history on Pershing Square (courtesy of

For years the square was a dusty vacant parcel known as block number 15 in Ord's Survey of Los Angeles. However, in 1866, an ordinance was signed by Mayor Aguillar declaring the block "...a public square for the use and benefit of the citizens of the common." The square was designed as a formal Spanish plaza and became known as La Plaza Abaja.

By 1887 the area around the square was becoming residential, and the new residents referred to the square as Los Angeles Park. Cypress and citrus trees were planted and a white picket fence was constructed to discourage stray livestock from entering the park.

In the early 1890's, the park was renamed Central Park. It was redesigned by Fred Eaton, then a City Engineer and later Mayor. A serpentine promenade, wooden benches, new plantings, sidewalks, and a bandstand were provided.

In 1911 the park was again redesigned, this time by the noted architect John Parkinson. The design was formal and symmetrical, with European antecedents. There were classic walkways within the square, a beautiful central fountain, lush plantings, and ornamental corner balustrades. The perimeter walkways around the park, which has been an important component of the Central Park in the early 1900's were maintained by Parkinson.

In 1918, "in a fit of Armistice Day fever," Central Park's name was changed to Pershing Square, and a statue of a dough boy was added to the corner of the park.

Most of the buildings on or near the square were built in the 1920's and early 1930'sÉ.During this period the Square was widely known for its colorful orators, military posts, and newsstands. Even the public library set up shop here.

Tropical plantings were added to the park in 1928 by Frank Shearer, the Park Superintendent.

As early as 1928, there were suggestions to put a parking facility under Pershing Square. The intended purpose was to alleviate congestion downtown, and later, to revive the ailing Broadway Theater District.

In 1950-51, after two decades of pressure, the City permitted construction of an 1800-car garage under Pershing Square. The park became a roof of grass. Automobile ramps on each side cut off the park from the surrounding city, making the square into an island, difficult to approach.

[In 1994] world-renown architect Ricardo Legoretta and equally celebrated landscape architect Laurie Olin have designed the square to be a vibrant gathering place and a signature public area for downtown Los Angeles.

This is where the initial interview occurs between Buzzworm and Manzanar for Gabriel. (pg 107) "We met at Pershing Square and tried to get comfortable on one of those curved bus benches that won't support a sleeping homeless person."

Some nice pics of the square back in the days:
square and the Biltmore

Orange - Manzanar/FreeZone

"Last sighted: Harbor overpass, near Fifth. Name's Manzanar."( pg. 44) A typical place in the downtown LA business district. A lot of traffic congestion usually takes place here, especially in the morning rush hour, which provides a great venue for Manzanar's 'jam sessions'.

Orange - Gabriel's House

"And there had been one additional attraction: the location. It was masked exactly by a sign on the highway shoulder beyond the house: Tropic of Cancer. In Gabriel's mind the Tropic ran through his place like a good metaphor. If it were good enough for the Tropic, it was good enough for Gabriel" (pg. 5).

The Tropic of Cancer refers to an imaginary line above the equator, the farthest point north where the sun can still appear directly overhead. This happens once a year at midday in June, the day Tropic Of Orange begins. 

Monday, October 15, 2007

L.A. in Pictures

Which is all by way of announcing the following exhibit, which we should all try to attend, at some point:

And the following, terrific website, containing many fascinating images of L.A.'s history:

In other art news, I just attended the opening of the Dali exhibit at LACMA, and, whatever you think of Dali's paintings (I, not much), there is some striking film work on display, and at least one room dedicated to Dali in Los Angeles.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fiery Pileup Kills Two--News Story

Some interesting connections between this recent news story and our current reading.


Friday, October 12, 2007

These are two pictures of the Paramount Pictures grounds...

This is the surrounding area on Melrose...

Horses Revisited

I just got back from LA and saw one of the spots from the novel I did the map for (Horses). (I'll admit I didn't go there only for the purpose of this class, but I'll tell you what I saw anyway...)

I drove down Melrose which is the street Robert and Gloria meet on in the beginning of the book. Specifically, I saw 5555 Melrose--the renowned Paramount Studios. The situation was SO perfect for thinking about this class and I was really upset I didn't bring my camera.

First of all, this place is ridiculous, it's a palace in the middle of a somewhat run-down neighborhood. And by palace, I actually mean like four palaces or something. I couldn't see very clearly because it's separated from the rest of the area by a tall stone wall that is (unlike many of the walls in the area) clean of graffitti.

When I went by it the first time, there was the beginning of some sort of event, perhaps the arrival of a celebrity (I could see through an arc in the wall at the entrance walk up to the building). Luckily, there was no maddening crowd like in Locust, but there was a huge red carpet with waiting spectators gathered all around. The circular driveway was just waiting for some limo to pull out (from amid public buses and run down Fords -sorry Javadizadeh-) into this magical world of pristine walls and towering architecture.

Someone in the car with me said, "do you think the people around here buy into all the commercial images and hype about celebrities? I mean they can see RIGHT HERE that it's just coming from this neighborhood no different than their own."

But, of course, they do. We all do to some extent. But next time we read about some aspiring actress trying to make it big, I will have this image of walking down a torn down street and seemingly stumbling upon this castle of lofty dreams with photographers ignoring the world around them and waiting for the one car/person/image that's different from reality. What an illusion it all is.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Locust - Kahn's Persian Palace Theatre

Mann's Chinese Theater here stands in for Kahn's Persian Palace Theater, the site of the final, violent riot in the novel. Kahn's is the pinnacle of glamour, "A Pleasure Dome Decreed," (West, 175), glamour separate even from the celebrities that come there. In fact, the crowd of the scene becomes unmanageable hours before the stars arrive--the place itself is enough to heighten their excitement and emotion, because they so desire excitement and emotion. Yet, as West says, "Once there, they (arriving residents of Los Angeles) discover that sunshine isn't enough. They get tired of oranges, even of avocado pears and passion fruit," (West, 177). The dream has not been all it was imagined to be, and chaos is the result.

Today, practically the entire area of Hollywood that the novel covers is paved with stars. The names of the celebrities for which the crowd waited are possibly underfoot, and tourists flock to the corner of Hollywood and Vine to see them, to see the building where the Oscars are held, and eat at the California Pizza Kitchen franchise. Is the dream being fulfilled? By stepping on the shining names of the rich and famous, has the common man gained a bit of that allure? West would certainly argue that the promise of the Golden Age of Hollywood had not been fulfilled in its own time. And now?

Locust - Cinderella Bar

The Cinderella Bar, a drag club where Homer, Tod, and Faye spend a grotesque evening, is an aptly named place in the book. Evoking the tale of Cinderella references the dreams of so many of West's characters, the hope of becoming something, a star, out of nothing. Yet, as the waitresses of West's bar are pretending to be that which they never will, so are his characters.
The location is almost a glamorous, Hollywood bar, like the Coconut Grove, but it falls sharply short. Didion, perhaps would appreciate this distance between the expectation and the reality

Locust - Tod's studio

Given that Tod presumably goes to work on occasion, we hear very little about his job. We do know that he does something related to the visual arts for a movie studio, probably designing or painting sets. Even though Tod's stated artistic desire throughout the novel is to represent the "real" Los Angeles, his day job is building a fake one. The novel opens with "a great din on the road outside his office," which is caused by a parade of actors dressed as infantrymen (21). This is a sight that Tod hasn't become accustomed to yet, judging by the fact that he doesn't leave until they've gone. Here at the beginning of the novel, the industry holds some interest for him.

It's no coincidence that "Manifest Destiny" is listed among the studio's fictional productions—the entire novel is about people who achieve that destiny. They make it to the ocean—unfortunately, most of them die there.

Locust - The San Bernardino Arms

Though we don't know where Tod lives initially, it's reasonable to assume that when he moves into the San Bernardino Arms, he's moving up into the hills—away from his job, and up to a place where he can get a better view of the real city. From his third-floor window he is enough removed from the bustle of the city to see it clearly—plus, the characters that populate the San Berdoo are largely the sort of people he wants to paint.

The fact that Faye and her father, both of whom are fully invested in the Hollywood mythos, live up in the hills is odd—it's also possibly symbolic of their distance from the city and all it represents. They're within walking distance of Hollywood and all its glamour, and they look at it from their living room window every morning, but they haven't actually made it there.

Locust - Hodge's Saddlery

Smack-dab in the middle of Hollywood sits a saddlery store, in front of which Earle Shoop and his cowboy pals spend most of their time. It's no coincidence that a store that presumably caters to outdoorsy needs would locate itself in a busy urban neighborhood—Hodge's seems to exist primarily to give its cowboy-actors some context. When Earle isn't working in a "horse-opera" (a clichéd Western movie, according to Wikipedia), he's simply standing in front of the saddlery store with his fellow faux cowboys. He isn't looking in the store, he's just placing himself in front of the the "enormous Mexican saddle" and other accoutrements in the window, as though an influential passerby might see him, think he looks awfully good among the trappings of the Old West, and hire him on the spot. Once again, we have Los Angeles existing only for show, as it clings desperately to an image of itself as the frontier, through a shop (which is essentially only a facade) in a neighborhood of fictions.

Locust - Earle's Camp

Earle's camp, located in an arroyo somewhere in the Hollywood Hills, might have looked a bit like this photo (of the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena in 1937). It seems to be an idyllic place, "a little green valley thick with trees, mostly eucalyptus, with here and there a poplar and one enormous black oak," (West, 113), yet is the site of a grotesque and violent scene, a foreshadowing event of the final pages of the novel.

Enclaves like Earle's camp have mostly disappeared from the Hollywood Hills, replaced by mansions. His camp's pastoral aspect, coupled with his cowboy personality contrast with camp's ancestors today, camps of homeless people in areas like Griffith Park. The fundamentals between the two are identical--Earle is indeed homeless, living hidden in the hills, yet his air makes this seem like choice rather than necessity. One wonders if that is indeed the case.

Locust - Holsepp's funeral home/chapel

Even death is a charade in "Day of the Locust." Mrs. Johnson puts on a show after Harry's death, comforting Faye in order to sell her to an undertaker for two hundred dollars. The funeral, too, is described as though it's a scene from a movie, with a carefully scripted eulogy and Faye's charmingly overbearing emotions—she makes sure to "increase the tempo of her sobs" when it's her turn to look into her father's coffin. Mrs. Johnson complains about the shoddy sets upon finding that the coffin handles aren't really bronze. The back rows of the chapel are filled with human vultures, waiting for "a dramatic incident of some sort"—they're there to see the show, and like unruly cinema patrons, when the "show" fails to deliver they sit in "vicious, acrid boredom that tremble[s] on the edge of violence" (121).

Locust - Homer's Cottage

Homer's house, located at the end of Pinyon Canyon "had an enormous and very crooked stone chimney, little dormer windows with big hoods and a thatched roof that came down very low on both sides of the front door," (West, 80). Its strange architecture separates it from those around it, and its confused styles--Irish on the outside, Spanish in the living room with New England-style bedrooms--are a fairly clear symbol for Homer himself, an outsider in Los Angeles, confused about his emotions and goals. Rather than look out on the city of Los Angeles, despite his wonderful view, Homer watches a lizard bask in his yard.
The location of Homer's house, or where if would have existed, is hard to pinpoint. The area at the top of Vine is now populated with expansive mansions circling the Hollywood reservoir. These homes have completely changed the nature of the canyon above Vine, but one thing remains the same: The Hollywood Sign still looms over the area. Almost directly above Homer's cottage, the icon of the area serves as a symbol for the superficiality that West so laments. It stands, metal and wood, broadcasting the importance of the place to the place itself.

Locust - Wayneville, Iowa

Homer Simpson comes from Wayneville, Iowa—yet another Iowan to add to our collection (and Tod's—the fact that Homer is from the Midwest makes him "like most of the people he was interested in" (52), another face to add to his painting). Unlike most of the Iowans one encounters in Los Angeles, however, Homer's not out to become the next Bogart. He was sent to Southern California for his health. Inevitably, though, Homer becomes caught up in and a victim of the Los Angeles lifestyle, mostly because of his attachment to Faye. Though Homer's never the healthiest, most stable guy, in Wayneville he held a steady job counting money. Once he moves to Los Angeles, though, he idles around staring at lizards and bringing gifts to a girl who doesn't want them. In the middle of the riot, he tires of the big city, and declares that he'll be walking back to Wayneville (193).

Locust - Chateau Mirabella

Chateau Mirabella, or 'Lysol Alley,' was Tod's previous home in Los Angeles and is located on North Ivar Street in the middle of Hollywood. Based on a hotel where West himself lived when he first moved to Los Angeles, the location is a cess pool, the most disreputable part of a city embodied in a building. While Tod wants to move from the hotel, "inertia and the fact that he didn't know where to go kept him in the Chateau until he met Abe," (West, 62-63). Chateau Mirabella, then, seems to represent the same sort of shattered 'California Dream' that has cropped up in so many of the texts we've seen. For West, as for Didion, the failing of this dream is not a product of place, but rather the result of a distance between the general idea of the dream and the details of its execution.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The last of Easy Rawlins...

A review in the L.A. Times of Mosley's latest (and Easy's last?) novel, which includes a gallery of some interesting and relevant photographs.


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Two from

A funny reference to Didion and other L.A. writers here.

And then this seemed relevant to some of what we had to say about geography, driving, and power in our last class.

Finally, please try to attend the screening of Barton Fink tomorrow--and spread the word if you like. It's a GREAT film.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Devil-Richard McGee's House-Laurel Canyon Rd

"At every other curve, near the top of the road, we'd catch a glimpse of nighttime LA. Even way back then the city was a sea of lights. Bight and shiny and alive. Just looking out on Los Angeles at night gave me a sense of power."(137)

Richard's neighborhood houses the rich and powerful, who look over LA. However, Richard is one of the most despicable characters in the novel. Success is no measure of goodness.

Picture taken from
Prof. Dr. Gerhard Eisenbeis, University of Mainz, Germany

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Devil- Albright's House- Malibu Hills

"It was a simple ranch-style house, not large. There were no outside lights except on the front porch so I couldn't make out the color. I wanted to know what color the house was. I wanted to know what made jets fly and how long sharks lived. There was a lot I wanted to know before I died."(244)

It is ironic that Easy fears for his life here, in a peaceful beach community. Although Malibu had the reputation for housing upstanding people, its dark seclusion sets the stage for violence and murder. This was seen also in The Postman Always Rings Twice.
The setting is depicted as being so gloomy that Easy is unable to determine the color of the house even though he strains to. This is mirrored by his struggle to interpret Daphne whose ambiguity also involves color.

Devil- El Barrio

It is interesting that most of the mystery is actually solved separated from both white and black territory. El Barrio serves as a neutral place, removed from the scenes of all previous action. It is inhabited primarily by Mexicans, members of a third race that has not yet been brought into the novel.
At Primo's hotel, Daphne and Easy have an intense love affair. He realizes things about Daphne that he had not noticed before. He senses her ability to adapt. "Daphne was like the chameleon lizard. She changed for her man. If he was a small white man who was afraid to complain to the waiter she'd pull his head to her bosom and pat him. If he was poor a black man who had soaked up pain and a rage for a lifetime, she washed his wounds with a rough rag and licked the blood till it staunched"(230-231).
At the Chinese restaurant Daphne gives Easy a false account from her childhood. He realizes that something is not right with her story and that she is hiding something. In the end we discover that she is actually partially black. As Daphne's eye color seems to change, so does her entire personality. Her black identity is unable to merge with her white body. This may be representative of the schism between whites and black in LA, both culturally and geographically. This is why she cannot bear the touch of Easy when he knows the truth about her.
"She wanna be white. All them years people be tellin' her how she light skinned and beautiful but all the time she knows that she can't have what white people have. So she pretend and then she lose it all. She can love a white man but all he can love is the white girl he think she is."(252-253)

Devil-Abe's Liquor Store

Again, Easy is unhappy about going into white territory because he is "nervous being so close to the police station..."(181). However, Easy is for once able to find similarities between his race and another. He relates to the Jews when he thinks back on seeing the concentration camps during the war. "That was why so many Jews back then understood the American Negro; in Europe the Jew had been a Negro for more than a thousand years"(185).

Devil-Champion Aircraft

Skystreak D-588-I designed my Douglas Aircraft Company

"Benny didn't care about what I had to say. He needed all his children to kneel down and let him be the boss. He wasn't a businessman, he was a plantation boss; a slaver."(111)
Easy compares the dynamic in the airplane hangar to a plantation system in which the black workers are treated like slaves and the white manager takes on the role of "the boss". Irony can be found in this description because airplanes are a symbol of freedom of movement. A plantation system inhibits upward movement in the economic sense. Easy is emancipated only after he leaves the hangar because his "bills were paid and it felt good to have stood up for [himself]. [He] had a notion of freedom when [he] walked out to [his] car"(112). Standing up to Benny is one of Easy's most triumphant moments in the novel. He is perhaps only able to do this because he has earned enough money from Albright to pay his bills. It is clear that Easy draws his strength to overcome racial adversity from possession of money and property. Perhaps this is a large factor in his preoccupation with keeping his home.

Champion Aircraft was not actually founded until 1954 ( and we found no proof that there was ever a plant located in Santa Monica. However, Santa Monica became a forerunner of development in the aerospace industry after Donald Douglas founded Douglas Aircraft Company there in 1921 ( Perhaps the location chosen by Mosley is more significant than the aircraft company. Santa Monica was known for being a white neighborhood. Easy does not feel comfortable in this environment and spends as little time there as possible.

Picture taken from

Devil-Earnest's Barbershop

The barbershop doubles as an informational hub where you can find information about all the happenings in the community. It is like a separate society with its own formalities and laws.

"You had to be tough to be a barber because your place was the center of business for a certain element in the community. Gamblers, number runners, and all sorts of other private businessmen met in the barbershop. The barbershop was like a social club. And any social club had to have order to run smoothly."(180)

Picture taken from

Devil-Carter's Building

"Talking to Mr. Todd Carter was a strange experience...but I had seen it before. Mr. Todd Carter was so rich that he didn't even consider me in human terms. He could tell me anything. I could have been a prized dog that he knelt to and hugged when he felt low. It was the worst kind of racism. The fact that he didn't recognize our difference showed that he didn't care a damn about me."(166)

Something that stood out to us in this quote is that Easy mentions that he had had this experience before. We drew a parallel with this to his time in the war. In times of despair, one is likely to do things one would not do under normal circumstances. Fighting side by side with white soldiers, Easy could sense their contempt. Although they were forced to work together, the white men did not act like they were working with equals. The way the white soldiers treated the black soldiers is also similar to how Easy dehumanizes the enemies he killed.

Devil-John's Nightclub

In John's place, Easy can relax because he feels like he is back home. He feels a sense of belonging and finds comfort in having Houston fellows around. This goes along with his holding on to his past, when he dreamed of the opportunity awaiting him in LA. The real LA is not like the dream but "sitting there and drinking John's scotch you could remember the dreams you once had and, for a while, it felt like you had them for real"(72).

Devil- Albright's Building

When Easy goes to see Albright, it is the first time in the novel that he leaves his territory in Watts to venture downtown into an area dominated by white people. Throughout the novel, changes in location within LA's borders are enough to change Easy's behavior. We sense his insecurity and discomfort when he is easily intimidated by the man at the front desk.
"It was a habit I developed in Texas as a boy. Sometimes, when a white man of authority would catch me off guard, I'd empty my head of everything so I was unable to say anything...I hated myself for it but I also hate white people, and colored people too, for making me that way."(58)
Even though Easy left Houston in search of improvement, the past still haunts him. His frequent war flashbacks, his second internal personality, his nostalgic dreams, and the racial tension he experiences are all reminders of things he has done and left behind. Even Mouse can be seen as an embodiment of the past that Easy attempts to forget but is hesitant to let go of.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Devil- Easy's House

Easy's motivation for taking Albright's offer stems from his desire to keep his home. He is willing to do anything to be able to pay his mortgage. He personifies his house as being his wife, "but that house meant more to [him] than any woman [he] ever knew. [He] loved her and was jealous of her and if the bank sent the county marshal to take her from [him he] might have come at him with a rifle rather than to give her up"(56-57). Owning property is his self-proclaimed greatest accomplishment and represents his independence. He dreams of buying more property, enhancing his freedom from white oppression against which he struggles all his life (e.g. in the war). He finally attains a feeling of security at the end of the novel when he is able to realize this dream.
Easy's intense love for his home is perhaps rooted in his past, living on a sharecropper's farm in Houston. The presence of lush vegetation is reminiscent of a farm. However, this contrasts the sharecrop because the flowers and fruit that Easy grows are a product of his own land.
The depiction of Easy's home as being floral and charming seems to be in conflict with the setting of Watts. After 1940, Watts was a predominantly black neighborhood containing large housing projects. (
Easy's house is not big, but it brings him comfort. Perhaps his perception of his home is skewed because of what he was used to in Texas. It is like the idealized version of LA that brought Easy to the city, but even though his living standard is raised, he is still at the bottom of society. "California was like heaven for the Southern Negro. People told stories of how you could eat fruit right off the trees and get enough work to retire one day. The stories were true for the most part but the truth wasn't like the dream."(72)

Devil -Joppy's Bar (p47-48)

Joppy's bar is the starting point for the action in the novel. It is here that Easy is first introduced to DeWitt Albright who later leads him down a treacherous path. Joppy introduces Easy to Albright for selfish motives. The smell of flesh permeating the bar may foreshadow the coming violence and murders in which Joppy is involved.
Racial tension is made very clear by Easy's reaction to seeing Albright, a white man, enter a bar that is predominantly frequented by black patrons. Albright's whiteness is exaggerated not only by his name, but by his "off-white linen suit and shirt with a Panama straw hat and bone shoes over flashing white silk socks"(45). This creates a greater separation between Albright and Easy. The relationship between the two races is mirrored by the distinction between black and white neighborhoods.
Easy is wary of Albright from the first time they shake hands. "'You can call me DeWitt, Easy,' the white man said. His grip was strong but slithery, like a snake coiling around my hand"(46). Easy is figuratively pulled into misfortune by the snake. This snake-like handshake evokes a biblical metaphor for those who have fallen. Although DeWitt attempts to seem harmless and friendly, allowing Easy to call him by his first name, it is apparent that his character is dangerous.