The Human Comedy, dedicated to Takoohi Saroyan, was first written as a screenplay under a contractual arrangement with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but in 1943, with the film version in production, Saroyan used the script scenario as the basis of his first and most popular novel. Set in Ithaca, a fictional name for Fresno, the work is based on some of Saroyan’s boyhood experiences and familiar reminiscences. In fact, the Macauley family, central in the plot, has parallels to Saroyan’s real family, without, however, a similar heritage.
The novel’s main character, Homer Macauley, is a fourteen-year-old adolescent with a job and some experiences that relate to actual events in the author’s life. With his father deceased and his older brother in the Army, Homer must assume adult responsibilities beyond his years. He is a surrogate father to his younger brother, Ulysses, and the provider for his whole family. At the outset of the novel, he has secured a part-time job as a telegraph messenger boy, which takes him into a variety of homes and businesses to encounter the richly delineated and variegated characters that people the novel.
Apart from Homer, the most engaging characters are Mr. Grogan, the old, rummy telegraph operator; Spangler, the telegraph office manager; Homer’s mother, Kate Macauley; Miss Hicks, Homer’s teacher; and Ulysses, his younger brother. These and a few others, such as Marcus, Homer’s older brother, are rather representative of the vintage Saroyan character who, though well enough individualized, shares with the rest a simple faith, love for life, and inherent goodness.
Although there is a central, persistent concern with the disruptive impact of World War II on the lives of these characters, the novel, like Saroyan’s early sketches, provides a series of vignettes that are only loosely connected. Some have no inherent connection to the central focus of the novel or causal relationship to scenes juxtaposed to them. Nevertheless, most offer charming, human-interest interludes and comic leavening to the novel’s more serious themes and...
(The entire section is 860 words.)