The Human Comedy Summary
The Human Comedy is a WWII-era novel by Willian Saroyan. The author himself grew up in Fresno, California as the son of an Armenian immigrant. The protagonist of Saroyan's novel is Homer Macauley, whose father is deceased. Homer's older brother Marcus, is away in the war when the novel begins, and so Homer takes care of his mother, Kate, his older sister, Bess, and his younger brother, Ulysses.
The novel's 39 chapters tell the story of Homer as he navigates life as an adolescent in middle America. In the beginning of the book, Homer, who works as a telegraph boy, has to deliver news to a middle-aged woman of her son's passing. Homer learns about the world primarily from his experiences at work, under the direction of Mr. Spangler, his boss, and the elderly Mr. Grogan, who also works in the telegraph office.
At the town shop, there works a vivacious and inspiring Mr. Ara and miserly Mr. Covington. Ulysses and Homer regularly shop for provisions there.
At school, Homer is influenced by the upstanding principle, Mr. Ek and the athletic trainer Mr. Byfield. He develops a crush on Helen, who is is the girlfriend of a wealthy young boy named Hubert. At a track meet, the athletic trainer tries to sabotage Homer, but Hubert thwarts the other runners until Homer is back on his feet.
Homer's mother, Mrs. Macauley, is wise and philosophical. At one point in the novel, she is visited by the ghost of her husband, who tells her that their son will soon join him. During a brief interlude the novel's setting switches settings to a train, where the older son, Marcus, is telling his friend, Tobey, about his family back home. Marcus expresses interest in Tobey marrying his sister, Bess.
Soon after, at the telegraph office, Homer finds the aged Mr. Groban dead from a heart attack at his typewriter, having died while typing something addressed to Homer's mother. On his way home, Homer finds Tobey, Marcus's friend, come to announce Marcus' death. He is welcome into the Macauley home enthusiastically, despite the tragic circumstance.
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...
(The entire section is 2,306 words.)