Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
On one level, The Time of Your Life is about a young man’s paternalistic efforts to make other people happy and to live life to the fullest without the pain of dull routine. Looking at the play from an oblique angle, however, one can see also how the portrayal of Depression-era American urban society—all the “barflies” at Nick’s—wields a tremendous popular appeal.
In the character of Joe, The Time of Your Life questions the ability of contemporary life to offer possibilities for a meaningful existence. Since Joe has to some extent realized the quintessential American dream of wealth, his present desperate continuation of the “pursuit of happiness” suggests that making money cannot be equated with living a fulfilled life. Audiences may not easily swallow the stage direction’s naive assessment that Joe is “superior” to all of the other characters. Too much has happened since 1939 to validate the idea that the handouts of the young patriarch in the saloon will bring happiness to others.
If Joe is an ambiguous character, he nevertheless represents only a slightly jaded version of the American success story, even though his speech about the harm of “unearned” money was considered radical enough to be cut in many contemporary performances. In The Time of Your Life, the criticism of the United States and American values is generally rather subtle throughout. Willie, the Assyrian game-master, is to...
(The entire section is 405 words.)
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Saroyan’s descriptions and the actions of the characters are very telling and indicate that the author is interested in what makes someone a good or happy person beyond what is generally considered financial and social success in America. Joe, for example, has made such a large amount of money that he can afford to sit at Nick’s without a job, drinking champagne. Yet, Joe indicates that he still searches for things that will make him happy. He cannot work because he cannot find anything that will not ‘‘embarrass’’ him, so his success is in what he is able to give to those around him. He helps Tom and Kitty begin a new life together and listens to and believes the wild stories Kit Carson tells, but he is deeply unhappy with himself and his life.
Other characters are searching for something to fulfill them, as well. However crass or difficult their lives may look on the outside, Saroyan insists on giving them inner beauty and knowledge about what is right and good. Krupp understands that, as humans and Americans, ‘‘We’ve got everything, but we always feel lousy and dissatisfied just the same.’’ He bemoans that there is ‘‘nobody going quietly for a little walk to the ocean,’’ because everyone is ‘‘trying to get a lot of money in a hurry.’’ Krupp is human, however: he certainly feels the yearning for material and social success, but he is also aware enough to know that it is false and leads nowhere....
(The entire section is 960 words.)