The Time of Your Life

by William Saroyan

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Critical Context

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With its emphasis on impromptu artistic performance, The Time of Your Life shows it indebtedness to American vaudeville theater, a form of popular entertainment which thrived during the early twentieth century. The Time of Your Life is also a precursor of existentialist and absurdist plays such as Samuel Beckett’s Endgame (pr., pb. 1958). The relationship between Saroyan’s Joe and Beckett’s Ham is striking. Both are essentially immobile characters dependent on their servants, and the plots of both plays meander toward a revelation of the futility of human action—in the case of The Time of Your Life, Joe’s inability to fire the cocked and loaded gun. Saroyan’s is not, however, an existentialist or absurdist play; Joe is still successful in steering the lives of others, and the absurdity of the chewing-gum contest has clear limits.

The Time of Your Life comments on the politics of its era primarily through allusion and the choric discussions of McCarthy and Krupp (the policeman is perhaps deliberately given the name of Germany’s foremost family armaments firm). Yet Saroyan’s play is not as intrinsically political as Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty (pr., pb. 1935). Further, one need not be an ascetic or a moralist to question the play’s assumptions regarding prostitution and alcohol.

The Time of Your Life is most successful where it tries the least. Its silent sympathy for aspiring artists such as Harry (a role which launched Gene Kelly’s career) is akin to Theseus’ appreciation of the Athenian players and their travesty of a tragedy in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (pr. c.1595-1596). Kitty Duval also achieves tragic status when she is ordered to perform an antimasque for the brutal anti-audience of Blick.

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Critical Evaluation