A Cool Million
How the idealistic portrayal of America was still portrayed throughout Lem's voyage
was one of my favorite reads from the semester; though, it was by far the most frustrating. Nathanael West was able to engage the reader with his characters. Right off the bat, we love Lem, we want “our hero” as West calls him, to succeed. However, West portrays, in a very frustrating manner that through many people’s journeys in search of hope, everything and anything gets in the way of their achievement of that goal. Every time Lem lost of a piece of himself, literally—eye, tooth, thumb, leg, scalp, fake eye, fake teeth-- we associate Lem with all seventeen year old boys traveling the country alone. Losing a piece of themselves everywhere they go and every hardship they feel. With West talking to the reader throughout his story, the narration offers a sense of travel. West guides our travel from Vermont to New York, from Chicago to California. He is the reader’s sense of direction.
Wu Fong’s brothel was an interesting and unfortunate depiction of the United States. Without traveling, one could experience
, the United States. When the international craze died down, Wu Fong used only American girls and created a setting within his brothel that allowed a visitor to travel
the United States. From Arkansas to Wyoming and Kentucky to California, reading the paragraphs that described the setting within each lady’s designated private quarters; I could not help but envision and accept the portrayal of America and each state Wu Fung offered. Within Wu Fong’s corrupt establishment, however, we have a corrupted picture of the States. All of the quarters are beautifully decorated by an established interior design house in Manhattan, the same establishment that now has Lem’s house within their windows. Interestingly enough, outside of Wu Fong’s brothel, those same states were suffering. Similarly, inside the beautiful home displayed in the fifth avenue window that was desired by many fortunate people, once lived a family that could not pay their household bills.
The girl’s rooms within Wu Fong’s brothel, were designed with the “idealist” view on American life within each State. Yes in New York, there were white velvet curtains that hung to the ground and beautiful chandeliers hanging in homes, however, the vast majority of people were down and out. In Kentucky, I am sure some could afford a beautiful iron grille from Charleston; however, most people were suffering and could not afford such a luxury. The visitors who visited Wu Fung’s brothel were given a picture perfect America. When the Indian man comes to see Lem, we assume the Indian man is wealthy. We assume he has the means to come to America, to pay for Wu Fong’s services. And yet he comes to America to enjoy the company of women who are down and out, women who do not live the lifestyles their rooms display. Women who perhaps once lived in a house similar to Lem’s that now sat in a storefront giving inspiration to those who were fortunate.
Similarly, within Riley and Robbins comedy show, Lem is used as a joke. However, he is an actual representation of the outcome of most young Americans during The Great Depression. At the show people think he is a comedian. They falsify the reality of many people and the United States. This blinded mentality frustrated me. It was apparent and exemplified through Riley and Robbins, Wu Fong and various business establishments. The reality of the situation for most, especially Lem, was not funny and was definitely not picture perfect.