The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

by William Saroyan

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Last Updated on May 27, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 583

Horizontally wakeful amid universal widths, practicing laughter and mirth, satire, the end of all, Rome and yes of Babylon, clenched teeth, remembrance, much warmth volcanic, the streets of Paris, the plains of Jericho, much gliding as of reptile in abstraction, a gallery of water-colours, the sea and the fish with eyes, symphony, a table in the corner of the Eiffel Tower, jazz at the opera house, alarm clock and the tap dancing of doom, conversation with a tree, the river Nile, the roar of Dostoyevsky, and the dark sun.

This long, stream-of-consciousness sentence begins the story. These are the protagonist's thoughts and the images he sees as he sleeps on the morning of the day of his death. His dreams are full of warmth, bright colors, and delights. He travels back in his mind to ancient times, to the wonders of Rome and Babylon. In his dreams, he experiences the wonders of what life has to offer, including warmth, water colors, the sea, music, and literature. The short chapter that begins the story and presents the man's thoughts while asleep contrasts with the rest of the story, in which the man is tired, unable to pay for food, and grim about his prospects. He feels that only sleep offers him the chance to really experience life, and the story examines this paradox—sleep, and later, death, is what can perfect life, but daily living involves suffering and deprivation.

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He walked into the day as alertly as might be, making a definite noise with his heels, perceiving with his eyes the superficial truth of streets and structures, the trivial truth of reality.

In contrast to sleep, waking life only offers a superficial existence. While the man encounters wonders and delights while asleep, he feels worn out, tired, and hungry while awake. His dreams are filled with bright colors, but the San Francisco day around him is cold and gray. It is only the clicking of his heels on the pavement that seems to remind him that he is alive. What he sees around him is only "trivial," or not really important. Instead, it is the life of literature and the mind that is real and true to the man.

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He remembered the young Italian in a Brooklyn hospital, a small sick clerk named Mollica, who had said desperately, I would like to see California once before I die. And he thought earnestly, I ought at least to read Hamlet once again; or perhaps Huckleberry Finn.

The man speaks about trying to wring something beautiful and true out of life. The clerk he knew in Brooklyn had the idea of going to California, which stood for the clerk's dream. The irony is that the man in the story is in San Francisco, which is only grim and desperate to him. The man wants to read great literature like Hamlet and Huckleberry Finn again, as he believes that literature represents the essence of life. Everything else around him seems dull and lacking in comparison.

Then swiftly, neatly, with the grace of the young man on the trapeze, he was gone from his body.

At the end of the story, the man dies. In his death, he achieves the perfection and grace he has been seeking. When he achieves this grace, he is described as looking like the young man on the flying trapeze. It is the ultimate irony that the man can only achieve this kind of grace in death, as it eludes him in life.

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