Post-World War II Los Angeles and the surrounding areas of California are the primary settings for The Grifters. Through the descriptions of La Jolla and the train trip there, readers get glimpses of a breathtaking California, one where people would very much want to live. Roy calls it “beautiful” and thinks of how it reminds him of the south of France.
However, that train trip is really the only time Thompson focuses on the sun and warmth that made California legendary. Most of the time, his attention is on the world the grifters inhabit, one which is made up of only two things: people and possessions. Even though grifters like Moira can sneer at the importance the masses put on status symbols (e.g., how a drink is made or served), the grifters are always acutely aware of such symbols. They read them for signs of class, signs of vulnerability, and signs of being in the know, and that means that the urban environment is intensely meaningful for the grifters. When Bert the bartender has a punchboard in his bar, it is not innocent. For Roy, it moves him from the category of being a friendly guy and puts him in one of two categories: fool or fellow grifter. When Lilly visits the racetrack, she almost feels horror at being among the masses and crowds of general bettors. At the same time, though, the grifters must be among these repellant elements to work their cons. This means that their landscape is forever alienated.
In addition to class markers, there are actual descriptions of the city, all of which are marked by categorization. Some come through the eyes of the grifters, who notice things such as the filth of the city, the color of police uniforms (signifying threat and jurisdiction), and the constant act of consumption. Some come through the words of other characters, ranging from the hotel clerk to the police captain. Their descriptions also categorize the people and places talked about, always evoking a city divided...
(The entire section is 520 words.)