"Unfortunately, Rosalba endured many scary nights staying in dingy hotel rooms with other migrants, mostly women, in downtown Los Angeles. She not only didn't have a man to help but no obvious skills except what she learned on the rancho. She had to survive being cast into a peculiar universe of neon and noise. This was a place where women sold themselves for sex or get stoned, and where people on city buses never say anything to you unless they happen to be drunk or crazy" (229).
In this extract, several things become clear about the nature of Los Angeles and its inhabitants. The migrant, whose group Rosalba joins, represents the suffering of poverty. The "peculiar universe of neon and noise" shows just how far Rosalba feels removed from this artificial, seemingly wealthy world. She has nothing that connects her to this world nor does she have skill to ever truly enter it. Ironically, even the rich, as will be seen, suffer this type of alienation. Los Angeles does not belong to anybody. It is a land where the soil fails to cultivate roots, and those who live in it are connected by this sense of separation and alienation as well as by the suffering and grief this can cause.
CHRISTOPHER ISHERWOOD, A SINGLE MAN (1964)
"As George drives down the boulevard, the big, unwieldy Christmas decorations -- reindeer and jingle-belles slung across the street on cables secured to metal Christmas trees -- are swinging in a chill wind. But they are merely advertisements for Christmas, paid for by the local merchants. Shoppers crowd the stores and the sidewalks, their faces somewhat bewildered, their eyes reflecting, like polished buttons, the cynical sparkle of the Yuletide." (p. 81)
What is important in this reflection of artificial Christmas decorations is that they hide something deeper, like all of Los Angeles and its surface wealth does. There is an emotion behind this view of Christmas and what seems like its lack of meaning.
All the main characters in the books suffer some sort of loss. George, as the protagonist, suffers the greatest loss -- the death of his lover. Charlotte has lost her son because he moves away and appears never to make contact with her in anyway. These losses connect these two characters in a sense of real emotion. Their pain is not artificial, but provides a way for artificial decorations that reflect the joys of the holiday season to become a symbol. Not all the wealth or beauty of the environment in which they live can shield people like George or Charlotte from their humanity or their pain.
SINCLAIR LEWIS, "GOLD, INC." (1938)
"What the novelist should discover, and what almost no novelist except Ruth Suckow has apparently heeded, is the million or two of Plain People, mostly from the Mississippi Valley, who make up not only the largest emigre colony the word has ever known, but the only such colony which came bringing wealth and 'modern conveniences.' Tens of thousands arrived in fast automobile or even airplane."
Lewis here implies that the stories of these wealthy people would be interesting to read not so much because they remind readers of the differences between themselves and the vast wealth possessed by Los Angeles inhabitants. He also seems to imply that these very differences have been accumulated in a specific way, and that the unusual and immediate wealth of these communities affect their humanity in a very specific way.
In other words, Los Angeles inhabitants are interesting because they live in an apparently endless fantasy world that is fabulously rich. However, they are also interesting because they are no more or less human than the reader who reads about them or the writer who tells their stories. This is what makes their stories truly interesting. The reader may envy their extreme wealth or how apparently easy it was to accumulate simply by being at a certain place at a certain time. But the reader should also be aware of the likelihood of this wealth to corrupt the individual or have other effects that may be unexpected and upsetting, precisely because they are human beings. The reader should be aware that, despite the wealth of these individuals and how they came by it, they are nonetheless still subject to humanity, pain, loss, and a wealth of other emotions. No amount of wealth changes this.
JAMES M. CAIN, "PARADISE" (1933)
"These people, in one way or another, are all exiles. They have come here recently, and their hearts are really in the places that they left. Thus, if they do not do as much visiting with each other as you see in other parts of the country, or the gossiping that goes with visiting, they do have the quick friendliness that exiles commonly show, and I must say it is most agreeable." (p. 112).
In this extract from Cain's work, the reader can begin to understand the deeper differences between Los Angeles inhabitants and those from the rest of the country, and perhaps why the wealth of this part of the world is so important to these people. Cain refers to them as "exiles," which connects to Lewis's concept of the "emigre community." They are, in fact, strangers who have brought with them vast wealth as a means of cultivating roots in their new world.
The question is whether this has truly worked, or if it is simply a veneer to hide the deeper-lying alienation that these people feel. Cain seems to think so. Nevertheless, this sense of alienation makes the stories of these people all the more interesting. They remain human, but gain an extra dimension; the fantasy they seem to live in the lap of luxury is related to the fact that their lives are not in fact what one may call "real." To make up for this, they project an image of fabulous wealth, while at the same time experiencing life as everyone else would; with a sense of loss. When losing a dear friend, lover, or family member, it is as if the loss they already feel intensifies, which could make for very good fiction.
Certainly, Los Angeles is a city that is inhabited by a wide array of human beings. Some are rich, others poor, some are homosexual and others are illegal aliens. All the experiences mentioned above entails some sort of suffering. Even those who are part and parcel of the artificial world of the wealthy access, at some point, what it is to be human by means of their suffering. The wide diversity of lives and beings in this city is…