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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Human Comedy, Bess is the sister of protagonist Homer. Homer is fourteen years old, and works hard to help his family financially during World War II. His sister, Bess, is seventeen, as seen in the following dialogue:

"To tell you the truth," Mary said to Mrs. Macauley, "...I'd really like to go out and find myself a job somewhere."

"And so would I," Bess said.

"Nonsense," Mrs. Macauley said. "You're both children -- Seventeen years old. Your father has a good job, Mary, and your brother, Bess."
(Saroyan, The Human Comedy, Amazon.com)

Because Bess is older than Homer, she thinks she should also be working to help the family. However, in their era, girls were not expected to leave the house to work, especially at a young age; seventeen was still young enough to be considered a child, although many children did work. Bess is an independent teenager, and she would work if the family really needed it; Homer's masculine ego is more forceful, and he works although the family is not in such dire financial need.

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The Human Comedy

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