Saroyan, William (Short Story Criticism)
Saroyan, William 1908-1981
(Also wrote under pseudonyms of Archie Crashcup and Sirak Goryan) American short story writer, dramatist, novelist, autobiographer, essayist, screenwriter, and songwriter.
Saroyan is known for his short fiction that is considered sentimental, nostalgic, and optimistic in its celebration of the potential of the human spirit and of the simple pleasures in life. The son of Armenian immigrants, Saroyan wrote of the lighter side of the immigrant experience in America, with special emphasis on the humor and importance of family life, which are central to Armenian culture. Most of his works are set in the United States and reveal his appreciation of the American dream and his awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of American society.
Saroyan was born in Fresno, California, to Armenian immigrants. His father died when he was three years old, and he and his three siblings were placed in an orphanage in Oakland, California. In 1915 they were reunited with their mother in Fresno. While a teenager he dropped out of school and moved to San Francisco, where he worked at various jobs and eventually became a telegraph operator. In 1928 he published his first short story in Overland Monthly and Outwest Magazine. Determined to become a full-time writer, he published his first collection of short stories, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, and Other Stories, in 1934. This work was very successful, and he produced several subsequent collections of short fiction. In 1939 he began a prolific career as a playwright. Saroyan wrote in various genres, including juvenile fiction and autobiography, as well as gaining notoriety as a public figure. He died of cancer in Fresno in 1981.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Saroyan's first collection, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, is his most critically and commercially popular book of short fiction. The title story concerns a young writer struggling with his role in a materialistic world. The protagonist makes an attempt to carry on in a hostile environment but eventually welcomes death. Saroyan introduces one of his notable themes in this story—the importance and magnificence of life in the face of death—a theme he would use over and over in his work. In "A Cold Day" Saroyan uses an epistolary form to describe his harsh working condition to Martha Foley, the editor of Story magazine. The narrator of "Seventy Thousand Assyrians," a young man of Armenian heritage, discovers his barber, Badal is an Assyrian, whose people, like the Armenians, have been driven from their land and are in danger of extinction altogether. He acknowledges his bond with Badal and contrasts the endurance of their two lives against the ominous fate of their respective homelands and people.
Saroyan's work has been widely reviewed but until recently has not received serious critical analysis. In structure and in philosophy commentators find his writing simplistic, an attribute for which he has been both praised and scorned. Many critics cite Saroyan's refusal to adapt his writing to changes in American life as a significant factor in the decline of his literary reputation. Moreover, commentators maintain that many of his stories are formulaic and overly sentimental. He has also been derided for the discursive, self-indulgent nature of his short fiction. Despite these opinions, Saroyan remains a well-respected writer and his works are widely read. Critics assert that his special talent lay in his ability to create poetic, humorous characters and situations and in his appreciation of the simple pleasures in life.
The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, and Other Stories 1934
Inhale and Exhale 1936
Three Times Three 1936
*The Gay and Melancholy Flux: Short Stories 1937
Little Children 1937
Love, Here is my Hat and Other Short Romances 1938
The Trouble with Tigers 1938
Peace, It's Wonderful 1939
3 Fragments and a Story 1939
My Name is Aram 1940
The Insurance Salesman, and Other Stories 1941
Saroyan's Fables 1941
Best Stories 1942
48 Saroyan Stories 1942
Thirty-One Selected Stories 1943
Dear Baby 1944
The Saroyan Special: Selected Short Stories 1948
The Fiscal Hoboes 1949
The Assyrian, and Other Stories 1950
The Whole Voyald, and Other Stories 1956
After Thirty Years: The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (short stories and essays) 1964
Best Stories of Saroyan 1964
An Act or Two of Foolish Kindness: Two Stories 1977
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SOURCE: "Saroyan on the Flying Trapeze," in New York Herald Tribune Books, October 21, 1934, p. 9.
[Rascoe was an American literary critic who contributed to such influential periodicals as the American Mercury, Bookman, Esquire, New York Herald Tribune Books, and Newsweek. In the following review of The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, and Other Stories, he dedares Saroyan "an extraordinary talent" and lauds his promise as a writer.]
Our breath is bated while we await the progress and development of the extraordinary talent which produced the title story of [The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, and Other Stories]. Will young Mr. Saroyan, we ask, ever get outside himself for more than a sustained instant and cease to marvel at himself as at an animated forked radish, wistful, sentient and beset in a pumpkin and spinach universe? And will we like him then, quite as much as now, when he becomes aware that other people exist and begins to ask himself why it is that this one does that and why that one says thus and so? Will we like him quite as well when we are finally privileged to see some of those "short stones" we learn from this book that he is incessantly writing?
What we have here is not a collection of short stories but an adolescent diary of a young man whose freshness and originality has the smack of genius. But what we have also is some...
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SOURCE: "Saroyan High Jinks," in The New York Times Book Review, November 4, 1934, p. 7.
[A drama critic for Time from 1938 to 1961, Kronenberger was a distinguished historian, literary critic, and author highly regarded for his expertise in eighteenth-century English history and literature. In the following review of The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, and Other Stories, he acknowledges Saroyan's talent but maintains that he has yet to prove himself as a writer.]
Mr. Saroyan's first short stories aroused considerable attention when they appeared, some months ago, in magazines; and his first book The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, and Other Stories, will unquestionably arouse more. He appears on the scene ready, as it were, to take a bow. There is nothing retiring or hesitant about him; he writes in what might be termed the autobiographical grand style. Under the guise of writing short stories he will let you know what he thinks of everything from Hemingway to the NRA. In the act of writing a short story he will let you know how he thinks a short story should be written. With the slightest turn of the wrist he will abandon his hero or heroine and wax talkative about Saroyan.
His ego, in the present volume, is his undoing. For, though he offers no proof as yet of being an important writer, there can be no question of his having talent. He writes with...
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SOURCE: "71 Varieties," in The New Yorker, Vol. XII, No. 1, February 22, 1936, pp. 67-9.
[Fadiman became one of the most prominent American literary critics during the 1930s with his insightful and often caustic book reviews for the Nation and the New Yorker magazines. In the following excerpt from a review of Inhale and Exhale, he expresses a preference for Saroyan's description of characters and incidents over pondering on a grand scale: "I must confess that when Saroyan is being most himself and telling us all about the World and Life and Time and Death, I don't understand him. "]
These 71 stories [in Inhale & Exhale]—no doubt Mr. Saroyan could have made them 571 or 5,071—are not, of course, stories at all. They're pretty much the sort of thing you remember from The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze. You may not think them worth doing, but you have to admit that only the prodigious Saroyan can do them at all. So here they are, 71 lengths or chunks of Saroyan, 71 exercises in sensibility, 71 monologues, prayers, jokes, conversations, lectures, sermonettes, travel sketches, anecdotes, diary extracts, self-adjurations, and letters to the editor. Saroyan scurries around within the field of his temperament, and when he's finished with a scurry he calls it a story. Even his temperament doesn't stay put: it's about as predictable as the next move of Mr. Robins...
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SOURCE: "Mr. Saroyan Continues to Write Very Much as He Pleases," in The New York Times Book Review, February 23, 1936, pp. 4, 13.
[During his years with the publishing firm Alfred A. Knopf Strauss edited works by Kobo Abe, Junichiro Tanizaki, Yukio Mishima, and Yasunari Kawabata, thereby playing an important role in the introduction of modern Japanese literature to American readers. In the following review of Inhale and Exhale, he judges Saroyan "the most prolific and uneven of writers. "]
A storm of conflicting opinion is usually raised by any mention of William Saroyan, whose meteoric advent on the literary scene dates from the publication last year of The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze. And there is good reason for the conflicting opinion, for Saroyan is the most prolific and uneven of writers; he spouts one story after another, apparently without revision, without self-criticism, without adherence to any one style. Indeed, he says "Style is necessary only when one has nothing to say, or a lie to tell." In Inhale & Exhale alone there are seventy-two stories of such startling unevenness that one can support or deny any thesis by its text.
His huge output, good, bad and indifferent, is at least a token of tremendous vitality. Saroyan writes as one talks, with complete unrestraint, freely, abundantly. In all his many styles he has that litheness and...
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SOURCE: "The Art of Mr. Saroyan," in New York Herald Tribune Books, August 15, 1937, p. 4.
[A highly respected American literary critic, Kazin is best known for his essay collections The Inmost Leaf (1955), Contemporaries (1962), and On Native Grounds (1942), a study of American prose writing since the era of William Dean Howells. In the following enthusiastic review of Little Children, he commends Saroyan's evocation of childhood and notes that the book is appealing despite its shortcomings,]
Mr. Saroyan is one of these rare writers (not always the most gifted but usually the most delicate) who can write only of themselves, but mould and even destroy the outer frame of sentimental autobiography. A Saroyan story is not so much a chronicle as it is a tender, even a timid, evocation of a world in which other little men may snicker or weep. There are immigrants in it, children, wistful heroism and swaggering failure; there is a pattern drawn and followed; but what counts is the faint glow of halfmuttered (we mustn't say too much) or tremulously understood (we mustn't boast too much) pity or terror or tenderness.
Mr. Saroyan despises any attempt to understand that world. He suffers in and with it, for that is the mark of his participation. In the end there will be a smiling stammer for every one who stumbles from one communal assault to another.
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SOURCE: "That Daring Young Man, Mr. Saroyan," in Lucifer at Large, Longmans, Green and Co., 1937, pp. 257-73.
[In the following essay, McCole provides a highly critical assessment of Saroyan's originality as a writer.]
Mr. William Saroyan has not only evoked perdition upon all the short-story professors by telling them they can go take "a jump in the river," but he has also hurled all their baggage-load of techniques into the river after them. As a matter of fact, long before Mr. Saroyan ever thought of becoming a writer he had decided that the only thing for him to do, would be to make his own rules. For one thing, his own rules might be easier to follow.
Some day, perchance, the literary historian might find it interesting to remember that William Saroyan's first break with the professors took place one afternoon when our future author was at the somewhat unpromising age of eleven. He had been sent home from school that day because he had talked out of turn; he had become "pretty sore" about the whole affair; and, then and there, he had formulated the first of his own rules. And what was it? Avoid all rules! For he found that people make laws for their own protection anyway: and, so, "to hell with them."
This is definite enough at least. But still more definite was the way in which Saroyan—after swearing to avoid all literary theory—then set about the business of...
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SOURCE: "William Saroyan," in English Journal, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, March, 1939, pp. 169-77.
[An American educator who served for over fifteen years as the president of The University of Michigan, Hatcher published works about the modern novel and modern drama as well as histories of the Great Lakes region. In the following excerpt, he contends that the strengths and weakness of Saroyan' s short fiction are directly related to his personality and outlook on life.]
Saroyan has kept himself in the spotlight almost continuously by his singular penchant for writing to the letter columns of the papers and magazines to protest criticisms of him by reviewers as his collections of stories keep coming from the press. Six volumes have already appeared in four years, magazines of all sorts are currently carrying his work, and there is no sign of the well going dry. That is to say, Saroyan has been before us long enough, and has accumulated a corpus of published work extensive enough, to warrant a critical examination and stock-taking. What is it all about?
First of all, it is chiefly about one William Saroyan, born in California of Armenian immigrants in 1908, how he has been growing up in the beautiful, mad, and tragic world before and after Hoover, what he has done and thought, and how it feels to be Mr. Saroyan inhaling and exhaling, meeting people, intoxicated with the awareness of his own...
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SOURCE: "It Reads Like Fiction," in The New Republic, Vol. XLIX, No. 1277, May 24, 1939, pp. 78-9.
[In the following excerpt from a review of Peace, It's Wonderful, Ferguson comments on the fragmentary quality of the stories and on the progress Saroyan has made as a writer since publishing his earliest fiction.]
The twenty-seven new Saroyans in this seventh book [Peace, It's Wonderful] show the author's growth in discipline and ease in the form (for example, he doesn't have to write that he is a great writer until page 117, an almost final triumph over doubt). Saroyan's form isn't that of the plotted story, where things happen from a beginning through a middle toward an end. Nothing "happens": he jumps full-tilt into the middle and full-tilt out, like a kid hopping a truck. Though he has done much with it, it is not particularly his: it is the artful form of no-form that has served so well for the expression of the last ten, fifteen years, translating an attitude, a thing, a person seen, an incident or mood or wisecrack, into the running terms of fiction. Static in development, its motion is toward a completed effect in feeling. It is halfway between excerpts from a novel—the form which gathers and carries all effects like a river—and the familiar essay, which is an entire effect in itself.
Saroyan's natural, vivid prose style and that exuberant appetite of his ran...
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SOURCE: "The Boys in the Back Room: William Saroyan," in The New Republic, Vol. 103, No. 21, November 18, 1940, pp. 697-98.
[Wilson, considered America's foremost man of letters in the twentieth century, wrote widely on cultural, historical, and literary matters. Perhaps his greatest contributions to American literature were his tireless promotion of writers of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and his essays introducing the best of modern literature to the general reader. In the following essay, Wilson perceives a decline in the quality of Saroyan's fiction after The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, and Other Stories: "[A] columnist is what William Saroyan seems sometimes in danger of becoming—the kind of columnist who depends entirely on a popular personality, the kind who never reads, who knows nothing in particular about anything, who merely turns on the tap every day and lets it run a column."]
The story becomes monotonous; but you have to begin by saying that Saroyan, too, derives from Hemingway. The novelists of the older generation—Hemingway himself, Dos Passos, Faulkner, Wilder—have richer and more complex origins, they belong to a bigger cultural world. But if the most you can say of John O'Hara is that he has evidently read Ring Lardner as well as Hemingway, the most you can say of Saroyan is that he has also read Sherwood Anderson (though he speaks of having looked into...
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SOURCE: "Armenian Picaresque," in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. 23, No. 10, December 28, 1940, p. 5.
[Canby was a professor of English at Yale University and one of the founders of the Saturday Review of Literature, where he served as editor in chief from 1924 to 1936. He was the author of many books, including The Short Story in English (1909), a history of that genre which was long considered the standard text for college students. In the following review of My Name Is Aram, Canby hails the artistry of Saroyan's accounts of a young Armenian boy in America who experiences are strongly colored by his heritage.]
I intend to be enthusiastic about this book, and so I should like to make it clear, first of all, that I am no bought-andsold admirer of Mr. Saroyan. I didn't much like The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, thought it too clever by half, thought that Mr. Saroyan, on the stage and off it, was one of the characteristic products of Broadway bred to Hollywood out of (often) Chicago—precocious, smartalecky, over-sophisticated, under-educated—a late Greek, Europeanized-Oriental production, sure to be amusing, and sure to be forgotten. I may have been right, or all wrong. Whatever I thought, My Name Is Aram has converted me to a belief in William Saroyan as a contributor to American literature and made me feel that I ought to reassess him from the...
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SOURCE: "The Lonesome Young Man on the Flying Trapeze," in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 20, No. 3, Summer, 1944, pp. 392-403.
[In the following excerpt, Burgum perceives that Saroyan 's depiction of disillusioned, alienated Americans has evolved.]
William Saroyan has reached the top of the ladder scarcely ten years after his first steps in learning to please the public. His achievement has not been the triumph of a vulgar opportunism. One can be sure (from reading "Sweeney in the Trees") that money has meant little to him; and if he has been tempted by fame, as his frequent references to his genius suggest, it is only that fame has seemed the proof of his being a likeable person. Writing has been the decoy by which he has sought to bring people closer to him. It has been the medium through which he could make more people the more intimately aware of his friendly spirit.
The mellowness of success has long since tranquillized his style, which had originally been less confident and more demanding. But it was clear from the start that he was a born writer. His first published pieces were the letters he wrote the editor of Story magazine informing him of his genius and his plans as a possible new contributor. Their impulsive mingling of truth and fantasy about himself whetted appetites that had been dulled by a surfeit of sophistication. Their request for recognition was an...
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SOURCE: "William Saroyan: A Portrait," in College English, Vol. 6, No. 2, November, 1944, pp. 92-100.
[In the following essay, Remenyi offers a portrait of Saroyan, emphasizing the influence his character and predilections had on his writing.]
To create, stated Henrik Ibsen, means to set judgment upon one's self. This romantic definition of creativeness does not cripple the need of classical balance. By applying Ibsen's definition of creativeness, William Saroyan's works explain much of himself. They reveal an extrovert using writing as a means for his most intense expression; thus he can keep pace with a pragmatic and incongruous world which is rather indifferent to the carefree design of an imaginative fervor. Born thirty-five years ago in the Fresno section of California, in a home close to a vineyard district, and brought up in Armenian immigrant surroundings, possessing a background that knew strangeness, sorrow, poverty, and joy, his growth was conditioned by emotions and experiences which, without the assistance of his native tenderness, combined with a religious heritage, might have made him a clever cynic in an age of elbow-philosophy and unscrupulous indirectness. Even so, his dexterity and boisterous temper sometimes bring him to the level of destiny's court jester or to that of an emotional materialist of the moment; and the hullabaloo or the sheer claptrap of his art and the fact that he is...
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SOURCE: "Mr. Saroyan—Still His Own Hero," in The New York Times Book Review, November 19, 1944, pp. 3, 36.
[In the following review, Norton finds the stories in Dear Baby trite.]
William Saroyan has had another affair with his heart, and he calls the little one Dear Baby. It is somewhat underweight (117 pages) and not so lusty as the others have been, but it's a Saroyan, all right. It has the smile on its lips, the lump in its throat, the tear in its eye, and the bag full of tricks—the same old tricks.
The twenty pieces in Dear Baby have been written over a period of ten years. The earliest was published in 1935, the year after Saroyan made the first public announcement of his genius in The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze. But the book is no publisher's potpourri of things left over after a young writer went to war. On the contrary, it is a special Saroyan potpourri, with each piece newly revised and some retitled. Probably what Saroyan says of one of the sketches (he is disguised, at the moment, as a bald-headed man named Donald Kennebec who has just written the sketch) is also his opinion of the book: "I feel that I have effectively utilized the material; that I have shaped it into a work which, if anything, will enhance my already considerable fame."
While once again Saroyan holds the mirror up to Saroyan, perhaps we can...
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SOURCE: "Saroyan with Trumpet & Tremolo," in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. 33, No. 4, February 4, 1950, pp. 15-16.
[Peden is an American critic and educator who has written extensively on the American short story and on such American historical figures as Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams. In the following review of The Assyrian, and Other Stories, he states that the title story is respectable, though the remaining pieces are such that "even [Saroyan's] most ardent admirers are likely to be quite unhappy. "]
William Saroyan's contribution to the American short story is a considerable one indeed. He brought to the American literary scene freshness of vision, simplicity, spontaneity, and gaiety. He possessed a sympathetic understanding of little people, a distinctly personal literary style, and a contagious sense of humor. He exerted a beneficial influence against the pretentious, the overwritten, the toofancily-plotted short story. Like Mark Twain, he opened the windows and aired the room at a time when fresh air was badly needed.
Saroyan at his least successful, however, can be very, very inadequate, and his newest collection of short stories [The Assyrian, and Other Stories] is one about which even his most ardent admirers are likely to be quite unhappy. It seems safe to venture that most of these pieces would never have seen print had their author been...
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SOURCE: "Saroyan Parade," in The New York Times Book Review, February 19, 1956, p. 26.
[In the following review, Peden judges the stories of Love highly uneven in quality.]
Love consists of some thirty short stories and narrative sketches originally issued in magazines ranging from Story and the Yale Review to the Pasadena Junior College Magazine. This collection again illustrates the fact that Saroyan still tends to be his own worst literary enemy. The best of these stories are very good, but others are quite the opposite.
At its best a Saroyan story is a delight—fresh, vigorous and perceptive. He has always been extremely successful in depicting children; several of these pieces possess all the warmth, insight and humor which made My Name Is Aram so notable. Equally recognizable as a Saroyan type is the ubiquitous "young writer seeking material for a tale." We find this character betting his last dollar on a worthless horse, or selling his beloved phonograph records because "being of the time, I wanted money"; in a more pensive mood he reflects upon death while gazing at some marathon dancers, or rents an apartment for a beautiful (and pregnant) young woman he happens to meet one day on a street corner.
This Saroyan character can utter both profound truth or nonsense out of either corner of his mouth. A man of surging...
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SOURCE: "William Saroyan and the Family Matter," in MELUS, Vol. 9, No. 4, Winter II, 1982, pp. 13-24.
[In the following excerpt, Bedrosian examines the sense of waning community felt by ethnic individuals in Saroyan's fiction.]
In one of his numerous autobiographies, William Saroyan once wrote of his dead father's failure to express the emotional truth of his life through aborted literary attempts. Now, over a year after his own death, these words offer one of the aptest commentaries on Saroyan's writing as well:
He hadn't made it. But as if as a special favor to me he had kept a record of it, of the failure, the loss, and the finality. . . .
In a sense the writing was my own, and I didn't like it. It just wasn't tough enough for the truth of us, of this world, and I wished it had been.
What we discover in the work of this most famous and prolific of Armenian-American writers is a lifelong tension between the forces of good-humored acceptance and the more insistent voice of his own experience as the orphaned son of an Armenian immigrant. For as Saroyan frequently informs his readers, his father didn't do him any favor by dying of an appendicitis attack when the boy was only three. Subsequently his mother was forced to find work as a live-in maid and placed her four children in a San Francisco orphanage, where...
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SOURCE: "I Want to Live While I Am Alive," in William Saroyan: My Real Work Is Being, The University of North Carolina Press, 1983, pp. 28-46.
[Calonne is an American educator and critic. Assessing Saroyan's short story collections published in the second half of the 1930s, he determines that these works reflect an affirmation of life in an inhospitable, divisive modern world.]
For Saroyan, it is clear, living itself is the highest value; he violently opposes any system, belief, or authority which seeks to thwart the unfolding of the individual's inner self. He depicts a modern world which is mired in illusion, which has forgotten the spiritual dimension of experience. In The Trouble with Tigers he describes humanity as "this mangled tribe, this still unborn God"; thus the deepest potentials inherent in life have yet to be realized by many people. The essential divinity of humanity is still tragically submerged, and the function of the artist is to reveal this hidden inner realm. To ignore this divine impulse within is to destroy one's potential for achieving authentic selfhood and psychological maturity.
In the six volumes that appeared after The Daring Young Man, this central idea is revealed in a variety of thematic formulations. Although it would be a distortion to identify each book with the exposition of a single theme, certain general patterns may be discerned. In...
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SOURCE: "More Letters from Bill," in Ararat, Vol. XXV, No. 2, Spring, 1984, pp. 124-28.
[Archer is an American author known for his histories and biographies intended for a young adult audience. In these studies, he avoids glossing over unpleasant aspects of history and presents famous figures realistically, depicting not only their strengths but also their failings and weaknesses. In the following excerpt, Archer recounts correspondences in which Saroyan discussed writing and his career. ]
My friend Arnie Bennett and I were nineteen when we discovered Bill Saroyan. The year was 1934, when the Dionne quintuplets survived and Chancellor Dollfuss of Austria didn't. Struggling for publication, we avidly read magazines like Whit Burnett's Story, a showcase for the best and brightest.
Lending me an issue, my friend said, "There's a story in it that will knock you out. Tell me what you think of it."
I read the whole issue. When we met again, I told him I was speechless. The story was fantastic. I'd never read anything like it, this side of Walt Whitman. The guy was a genius, and we had to do something to help him get famous.
When we began to discuss specifics, Bennett looked increasingly puzzled. "What the hell are you talking about?" he exclaimed. "There was nothing like that in the story."
It was my turn to look puzzled. "Well,...
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SOURCE: "Saroyan's Study of Ethnicity," in MELUS, Vol. 13, Nos. 1-2, Spring-Summer, 1986, pp. 45-55.
[In the following essay, Shear studies Saroyan's treatment of ethnicity in the stories in My Name Is Aram.
At one time William Saroyan was America's most famous ethnic writer—more famous than ethnic, perhaps. In the late 1930s and early 1940s Saroyan exploded onto the literary scene as a true Wunderkind, the writer who was singlehandedly revolutionizing the form of both the short story and the drama. He was the man who refused the Pulitzer Prize and argued with Louis B. Mayer over the issue of artistic integrity. As a literary personality, he had an instinctive desire to be a part of the American cultural scene, to feel that he counted on such a stage. Yet at the same time he felt apart from it, hating the entrepreneurs of culture and his writing rivals with such a passion he was often dismissive of the popular mainstream culture of his day. In these moods he was apparently satisfied with his own artistic ego and his quieter working out in his fiction of his own cultural dilemma.
Saroyan's ethnic writing, which is in essence his emotional record of what it means to be a member of the Armenian subculture, is scattered throughout the corpus of his work, appearing in almost every form his protean talent produced—short story, novel, novella, memoir, essay. While his later fictional works...
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SOURCE: "William Saroyan," in A Literary History of the American West, Texas Christian University Press, 1987, pp. 472-81.
[Haslam is an American educator, short story writer, and novelist. In the following essay, he traces the courses of Saroyan's literary career and critical reception. ]
Few American writers tumbled as dramatically from critical acclaim as did William Saroyan. There were many reasons, not the least of which was his personality. Because, as Saroyan's son Aram has argued, the writer came to personify "what might be called the mythic potential of his particular social-historical moment." Saroyan's selfcentered, sometimes abrasive character became perhaps more important than his writing in the eyes of some. William Saroyan was, during the first half of his career, as much a public figure as an artist, and the confusion of those two roles made it easy to ignore his literary accomplishments once his notoriety faded.
In fact, the artist's psychological contradictions are finally much less important than the quality of his art and, from his first published volume (The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories, 1934) until his last (Obituaries, 1979)—both of which were cited as among their years' best books—Saroyan was an authentic, singular American genius. He was also, as Bob Sector has pointed out, "his own biggest fan."
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Foard, Elisabeth C. William Saroyan: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989, 207 p.
Extensive secondary bibliography about Saroyan and his work.
Floan, Howard R. William Saroyan. New York: Twayne, 1966, 176 p.
Critical biography. Floan attempts to "define the unique quality of [Saroyan's] imagination, to account for his enormous popular appeal and for the obvious staying power of this appeal."
Foster, Edward Halsey. William Saroyan. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1984, 51 p.
General biographical and critical monograph on Saroyan.
Lee, Lawrence, and Gifford, Barry. Saroyan: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1984, 338 p.
Biography drawn from conversations with Saroyan's friends and associates, journalistic research, and Saroyan's own autobiographical writings.
Saroyan, Aram. William Saroyan. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983, 168 p.
Presents a personal perspective on Saroyan's life and work.
Ararat XXV, No. 2 (Spring 1984): 1-140.
Special issue devoted to Saroyan's life and work.
Balakian, Nona. "The World of William Saroyan." In Critical Encounters: Literary Views...
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