William Saroyan •
The Human Comedy •
William Saroyan does something purely magical in The Human Comedy. He takes the fictional small town of Ithaca, California, and against this backdrop unfolds the whole panorama of human existence in one sweep—every childhood, every job, every courtship, every rite of passage.
Even the names of the three Macaulay brothers—Ulysses, Homer, and Marcus—hark back to an ancient era. They are meant to evoke that lineage, the connection of time past to the present day and stretching into the future.
Off camera, World War II is being waged, and we see its shadow in the GIs who drift through town on leave and the War Department telegrams that Homer delivers in his job as messenger boy. But the smaller, subtler dramas are every bit as potent here: Ulysses, through his insatiable curiosity, gets caught in an animal trap being demonstrated at the hardware store—where no one can figure out how to extricate him and a crowd gathers to watch. The senior telegraph operator requires a glass of cold water splashed in his face and a cup of steaming coffee pressed into his hand to sober him up when incoming messages arrive. A child who cannot read nonetheless loves visiting the library to stare in awe at row upon row of books. An old man chases boys out of his apricot trees—not because he cares if they steal the apricots, but because he knows they expect to be chased; it heightens the adventure for them.
Saroyan says that Armenians believe in “God and kids.” In keeping with his heritage, he has crafted a story worthy of the whole human race.