“The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze,” the story giving Saroyan’s first collection of stories and sketches its title, initially appeared in Story magazine. The piece is basically an impressionistic reverie. Although told in the third-person voice, it works through the recording consciousness of the unnamed protagonist, an impoverished writer who is literally starving to death. The writer’s thoughts are disjointed and incoherent, as is characteristic of the stream-of-consciousness technique used by French novelist Marcel Proust, whose work the writer reads in the story.
The hunger gnawing at the writer’s body presumably accounts for the randomness of his thoughts. Aware that his strength is slipping away, he sets out to look for work, fortified, as on many previous days, with only coffee and cigarettes. Little actually happens during his sojourn outside. He finds a penny in a gutter and speculates on its possible use, moves through the city (looking at his reflection in the window glass of stores and restaurants), and goes for an interview at an employment agency. He goes to the YMCA and to the library to read Proust before returning to his room, where, at last, he falls face down on his bed and dies a peaceful, almost welcomed death.
During these mostly mechanical actions, his mind races through a welter of disconnected ideas. The song of the title keeps humming in his brain, as do thoughts about public figures, writers, food, places, and his plan to write An Application for Permission to Live. His only interaction with another character occurs in his interview with the cold and efficient woman at the employment agency.
Saroyan’s style in the story is poetic in its lyric statement and rich allusions to people and things. Like images of a life going quickly by, the names cascade through the character’s mind, seemingly out of his control to shape them into a logical pattern. His desperation at times directs his thoughts to food and shelter, but his weakness does not allow him to hold or develop any singular thought for long. At the last, his thoughts drift up, away from his body, with his life, in death, becoming “dreamless, unalive, perfect.” That dissolving of life into nothingness offers a quiet, dignified apotheosis of the human spirit that Saroyan makes almost enviable.