Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Time of Your Life, Saroyan’s most critically acclaimed play, was received with warm praise for its great originality. As in his early fiction, Saroyan seemed determined to break with tradition, developing the comedy in his own, inimitable fashion and playing havoc with standard theatrical conventions. Set in Nick’s, a San Francisco waterfront honky-tonk, the play focuses on Joe, his friend Tom, and an engaging prostitute named Kitty Duval. There are a host of other destitute but benign characters who drift in and out. Nick’s offers a haven of hope for all who enter, unless, like Blick, an abrasive detective, they are persecutors of the downtrodden.
Nick’s is also a sort of microcosm of Saroyan’s ideal of America. It is clearly a melting pot, for among its denizens are a melancholy Arab, a starving young black man, an Irish cop, the gruff Italian proprietor, a prostitute of Polish ancestry, a Greek newsboy, and a crusty old mule skinner who seems to embody an offbeat variety of every trait ascribed to the legendary frontiersman.
More important, Nick’s is a place of great tolerance and freedom, bordering more on fantasy than reality. It is a place where the dreams of the characters begin to come true, where the starving find sustenance, the deprived get a break, and the lonely and disheartened find love and hope.
Other than Nick, only Joe has any money. Throughout the play, as if he possesses a magic pocket,...
(The entire section is 904 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
At Nick’s restaurant and saloon, a motley crew of individuals from all walks of life gathers to pass the time, converse, philosophize, seek employment, and fall in love. These colorful, odd characters all have their histories and idiosyncrasies. Joe, for example, sends Tom on errands to purchase toys—not for a child but for Kitty Duval, a woman who cannot stop crying. Tom grumbles that Joe is always making him do things that end up embarrassing Tom. When Kitty, a streetwalker who formerly performed in burlesque theaters, enters the saloon, Joe buys her a bottle of champagne as if she were royalty—a gesture that makes Nick exclaim that Joe is crazy.
Other strange characters who enter the saloon are Dudley and Harry. Dudley constantly telephones Elsie Mandelspiegel from the restaurant and begs her to marry him; Harry is determined to relieve the world’s sorrow by becoming a famous comedian. Another newcomer who arrives on the scene is Wesley, a gifted black musician with a flair for the piano. Nick, the owner of the saloon, is dumbfounded at the eccentric people who frequent his establishment. Joe makes Nick stock expensive champagne although the place is a dive. Kitty expects the others to treat her like an elegant lady.
Comedians and musicians beg to make their debuts at Nick’s obscure old honky-tonk. The customers and visitors feel a sense of belonging and experience a sense of home. At Nick’s saloon, they feel secure and...
(The entire section is 964 words.)
The play opens in Nick’s Pacific Street saloon, a restaurant and bar near the San Francisco waterfront. It is the late afternoon and a group of regular patrons are sitting around the room. Nick, the owner, is behind the bar. Joe and the Arab look at the newspaper headlines and react with typical disgust.
Willie, a young man who enjoys playing the marble game in the bar, enters and gets a beer from Nick. He wants to resist playing the game just this once but finally gives in. Joe begins angrily calling out for Tom, who is not in the bar.
Tom enters the bar in a rush, and he and Joe begin an exchange indicating that, at one time in the past, Joe saved Tom’s life by getting him to eat when he was very ill. Because of this, Tom is forever indebted to Joe and runs errands for him— however strange or nonsensical. Joe gives Tom money and asks him to buy a couple of dollars’ worth of toys.
Kitty Duval walks in and gets a beer. Tom is enchanted by her, but Joe sends him on his errand. Kitty claims to have been a famous actress in a burlesque show in the past, but Nick does not believe her, knowing that she now works as a prostitute. Joe is easier on her.
Dudley R. Bostwick enters the bar and frantically dials the phone, looking for Elsie Mandelspiegel, his girlfriend. Moments later, Harry comes into the bar looking for a job as a comedian, and Wesley, a young black man, enters the bar looking for any...
(The entire section is 1749 words.)