Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 528
Time is an important concept in the works of Saroyan. Many of his plays and stories feature or comment upon it in their titles, such as I Used to Believe I Had Forever: Now I’m Not So Sure (1968), and present analyses of the concept of time. The point of Saroyan’s most famous work, the play The Time of Your Life (1939), is that one wastes much of one’s life in waiting, being bored, doing things at the command of others, or engaging in unpleasant or painful behavior. For only a brief moment does one experience one’s own time, “the time of your life,” a time that one should recognize and savor. For Saroyan, neither life nor art should regard time as a dramatic, dynamic process leading to a grand climax, be it marriage, success, or death. Once one is alive, all life is important, and all life is to be lived as fully as possible.
Almost everything that Saroyan wrote involves the idea that the little, at first unnoticed, times and places are finally the most significant. Like a Japanese artist, Saroyan finds meaning not in history but in the moment, not in the panorama but in the details. The reader of Places Where I’ve Done Time who wonders what all the little essays are leading up to or who wonders what the point is has already missed the point. The brief glances and the random arrangement reinforce Saroyan’s theory that intense experiences come and go but are finally united and reborn in the consciousness and memory of the person who has garnered them.
Places Where I’ve Done Time also refutes the popular notion that Saroyan is a facile sentimentalist who presents a rosy view of life in order to please a mass audi-ence. To “do time” means to be in prison, so that even the title of this volume shows that Saroyan understood the darker side of experience. Some of the places Saroyan remembers, such as the orphanage in Oakland where his mother was forced to place her children upon the death of her husband, are hellish to recall. The content of the book, which suggests that any experience may be redeemed through the intensity of feeling in the person who encounters it, balances and even makes a joke of the title.
Saroyan’s organizing device in Places Where I’ve Done Time mimics a feature of his own life. The author was a pack rat who never threw anything away and treasured every object for the memories that it evoked. Summoning feelings from souvenirs is a technique used by many writers, but Saroyan clearly carried this preoccupation to extremes. He picked up rocks on the beach and stored them in jars, each labeled with the place and time at which the rocks were found. Saroyan bought two adjoining tract houses in Fresno, described in the book, and, while living in one, filled the other with memorabilia. Thus the cataloguing of places and times and sifting of memories and experiences were not procedures employed for one book but what Saroyan did every day to add depth and meaning to his life.
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