What is the meaning of the last sentence in Chapter 1, quoted below, in The Human Comedy?"He looked at it a moment, picked it up, brought it to his mother and very carefully handed it to her, by...

What is the meaning of the last sentence in Chapter 1, quoted below, in The Human Comedy?

"He looked at it a moment, picked it up, brought it to his mother and very carefully handed it to her, by which he meant what no man can guess and no child can remember to tell."

Asked on by blanquitap

1 Answer | Add Yours

belarafon's profile pic

belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

This quote is part of the opening nostalgia scene in the book, where the young Ulysses Macauley examines his life and finds it both memorable and exciting. He watches a train go by, and is waved to by a black man playing a banjo; the black man shouts that he is "Going home... where I belong!" and something about this phrase speaks to Ulysses. He waves at a hobo on the road, but the hobo is too tired to notice. Returning to his own home, Ulysses begins to run in joy, but falls down; this cannot injure his joy, however, and he finds an chicken egg for his waiting mother.

His mother was in the yard, throwing feed to the chickens. She watched the boy trip and fall and get up and skip again. He came quickly and quietly and stood beside her, then went to the hen nest to look for eggs. He found one.He looked at it a moment, picked it up, brought it to his mother and very carefully handed it to her, by which he meant what no man can guess and no child can remember to tell.
(Saroyan, The Human Comedy, amazon.com)

As a child, Ulysses does not possess a mature mind, but instead has an unformed, disorganized mind, waiting to be molded by experience and event. Ulysses thus places great meaning on small things, such as a gopher hole, the train, and the amazing event of a strange man greeting him with such enthusiasm. The presenting of the egg to his mother is just another one of those meaningful events, very special to him, but not entirely understandable by adults. "No man can guess" what was going through his mind as he made a small ceremony of the egg, and "no child can remember" what he was thinking at that moment. Children, more than adults, live in the moment, and since they are still training their short- and long-term memories, they do not necessarily remember what they were thinking when they perform an action. Uysses is living each day anew, with each experience something to remember and treasure; even if the memory does not last, he is happy in the moment, and that is what counts to a child.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,982 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question