How do adults treat children in The Human Comedy? Cite at least two examples, and consider whether this treatment is realistic. What larger ideas and attitudes might Saroyan be trying to communicate through this depiction of adult-child relationships?

I thought these scenes were very realistic, except that the customers in both cases are adult males who have no interest in children. It would have been more realistic to include one or two customers with children, but nevertheless I thought it was a very good portrayal of a child's feelings and his expectations from strangers. Saroyan is not trying to teach anyone anything about life through these episodes; he is merely depicting real feelings and attitudes as realistically as he can. He wants readers to believe that kids' feelings should be taken seriously because they're real, and that parents and neighbors should do their best to understand those feelings and meet them halfway with kindness. I think the vignettes that depict Mr.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Because The Human Comedy is a novel structured essentially as a series of vignettes, in my view there are certain brief episodes throughout it, seemingly incidental ones, that reveal the most significant points Saroyan is making about small-town life and relationships, and about human life overall.

An episode in chapter 25 stands out in my mind. In it the Armenian grocer, Mr. Ara, is repeatedly asked by his small son for treats, fruit, and candy, and each time Mr. Ara complies, indulging him though the boy isn't finishing the apple, the orange, the banana, and so on. A customer, from his speech also probably an Armenian, enters and asks for cookies for his sick nephew. Though Mr. Ara has no cookies, he gives the man a bagful of fruit and refuses any money for it. Saroyan uses the episode as a parable about general human dissatisfaction and unhappiness, but it also illustrates the unlimited kindness some adults are capable of giving children.

Another event that stands out occurs at the very start of the novel, when Ulysses waves to people on a passing train and all of them ignore him except an African American man, who then speaks to Ulysses and expresses happiness over the fact that he is on his way home. It is one moment of bonding between adult and child which is small in itself, but again provides an example of the theme of kindness at the heart of The Human Comedy.

In my opinion these two scenes are among the most realistic episodes in the novel. The child in each case is a less mature version of the adult, but has essentially the same feelings and hopes and dreams as grown-up people do. Saroyan depicts the parallel between young and old in an especially moving way.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Two contrasting examples of adult treatment of children occur in close proximity. They involve Homer's school, as William Saroyan shows the different beliefs and practices of the teacher, Miss Hicks, and the track coach, Mr. Byfield.

One day in class, a discussion about history erupts into an argument between two boys: Homer, whose family is of limited means, and Hubert, who is from a wealthy family. Homer calls out the other boy on his elitist snobbery. Miss Hicks tells them they must both stay after class.

The boys's rivalry extends to running track, and they are eager to compete in a track meet that day. Mr. Byfield attempts to intervene and urges the teacher to relent. It turns out, however, that he is really concerned only about Hubert—more accurately, about his influential father's reaction. To get her to change her mind, he lies and says he has the principal's backing.

These two related incidents show the author's realistic evaluation of two contrasting adult attitudes. Miss Hicks wants to be fair, to disregard the differences and treat both students the same. Mr. Hicks cares more about wealthy people's opinions than about Homer's opportunity to participate in athletics or treating both children justly.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Adults treat children very respectfully and as equals in The Human Comedy. For example, in Chapter 3, Mr. Spangler, Homer's boss at the telegraph office, asks Homer how he likes working at the office and then reassures him that he shouldn't be afraid to deliver telegraphs at night. Even though Mr. Spangler is Homer's boss, he is more invested in helping Homer grow than in pushing Homer to work harder. In Chapter 12, Miss Hicks, Homer's teacher, tells him that she has only punished him because she likes him and wants him to realize that he can get along with Hubert Ackley, even though they are from different classes. Miss Hicks is far more interested in educating her students and helping them grow personally than she is in punishing them. 

The adults' treatment of children in these examples could be read as unrealistic, as it is far more idealistic than that of most adults. Saroyan is trying to convey an attitude of respect towards children and the idea that adults should not just regard children as workers to exploit or pupils to discipline but as human beings who need moral and social guidance. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team