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: 345

Sleep and Death

At the beginning of "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze," the protagonist is sleeping and having wonderful dreams, which Saroyan describes in a stream-of-consciousness style. These dreams are filled with wonderful sights and colors, and they feature the delights of life, including the sea, music,...

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Sleep and Death

At the beginning of "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze," the protagonist is sleeping and having wonderful dreams, which Saroyan describes in a stream-of-consciousness style. These dreams are filled with wonderful sights and colors, and they feature the delights of life, including the sea, music, and literature. In contrast, the man's life is grim and gray. He walks about San Francisco without food, only drinking water, until he dies. Death, a longer kind of sleep, also has the perfection that the man is looking for. He is described as perfect in death in a way he never was while alive. Thus, sleep and death are presented as relief from the struggles of life.

The Struggles of a Writer

The protagonist's purpose in life is to write and read. He thinks that he would like to read Hamlet and Huckleberry Finn again before he dies. He values literature, and he finds that it offers the kind of perfection that is missing from everyday life. He also wants desperately to be a writer, but there is no way for him to do so. There are no jobs that involve getting paid to write, and he has only a few scraps of paper (which he took from the YMCA) in his room. The world around him does not give him the opportunity to write, and he cannot find the type of transcendence he is looking for while alive.

Truth and Fiction

While the man's dreams are portrayed as alive and true, his daily life does not seem real or alive to him. He walks about the streets of San Francisco feeling grim and depleted, and what he sees around him seems "trivial," unimportant. Reality does not offer him the release or transcendence he is looking for. He cannot find any pleasure in life. He does not even have any food to eat, and the larger pleasures of life—such as the wonders he sees in his dreams—completely elude him. Instead, he only finds release when he dies. Ironically, life is nothing but suffering to him.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 354

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.

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