The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze Themes

William Saroyan

Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, when “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” first appeared, many people were out of work and hungry, so the story had a strong impact for its initial audience as an account of daily life during hard times. However, William Saroyan does much more with his material than provide a naturalistic view of a day in the life of one oppressed man. Saroyan takes a phrase, “starving artist,” which has become a cliché and almost a joke, and gives it new power by taking the reader not only into the life but also into the mind of a writer who is literally starving to death. The death of this man is doubly tragic, for as well as being a fellow human being, he is a person who is able to transform the apparently meaningless flow of circumstance, order it, and give it a meaning that might help others to understand their lives and thereby endure them. In a society primarily concerned with survival, however, art seems an extravagance. Depression-era America, or perhaps any society, does not recognize the role of the artist as a seer and healer. Throughout his last day, the writer sees details that no one else observes and of which he continues to try to make sense. His last conscious act is to look closely at the coin he has found and marvel at its beauty. He wants to bring his sense of joy and wonder to others, but the world does not respect his function, and he no longer has the energy to write. This tragedy is brought to focus in the only scene in the story in which the writer exchanges words with another person. When he tells the lady at the employment agency that he is a writer, she ignores this statement and asks him if he can type. There is no work for his mind, only for his hands. Finally, the writer finishes the task of assimilating all the myriad details he has been trying to capture and organize, not by explaining them but by joining them in death.