What are the main symbols and underlying themes in The Human Comedy?

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Written by Armenian-American writer William Saroyan, The Human Comedy tells the story of fourteen-year-old Homer Macauley. The novel is set in California during the Second World War. Homer’s father has died and his eldest brother, Marcus, is away fighting. Homer now sees himself as the head of the family...

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Written by Armenian-American writer William Saroyan, The Human Comedy tells the story of fourteen-year-old Homer Macauley. The novel is set in California during the Second World War. Homer’s father has died and his eldest brother, Marcus, is away fighting. Homer now sees himself as the head of the family and believes he should take care of his mother and his two younger siblings, Beth and Ulysses. In the evenings, to make some money for his family, Homer works as a telegraph messenger. The story opens as he delivers a telegraph to a local woman. The telegraph tells her that her son has been killed whilst fighting in the war.

Two significant themes which the novel explores are love and loneliness. Despite the sadness he witnesses regularly, as he delivers bad news to members of his community, Homer is able to stay strong because of his happy home and the love he has for his family. Saroyan is also telling us to be loving and kind to neighbors and strangers.

Loneliness is witnessed time and again throughout the novel as many of the characters make strides to combat it. For example, this theme is shown by Mr. Spangler, who works at the telegraph office, and his relationship with Diana Steed. It is also demonstrated when Mrs. Macauley welcomes Tobey George, a soldier who had known Marcus, into their home and their family.

Interesting symbols to note are eggs, which represent new life and hope in the face of adversity, the use of trees as symbols of challenges won, and the singing of hymns as a declaration of faith in God.

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