The Spirituality Book Discussion Group met for the second to last time on March 15th at the South Hill branch of Spokane Public Library (www.spokanelibrary.org). The book discussed was William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy.
The Human Comedy by William Saroyan is written simply and concisely. It’s themes are obvious and even a child could read this book. It’s main character is Homer Macauley. He’s fourteen and works for the telegraph office in the small town of Ithaca, California in 1944. His father is dead and his older brother, Marcus, is serving in the second world war. Homer grows up during the course of the novel — from a boy who would stop at nothing to beat a rival in the low hurdles at school — to a man that has seen grief in all it’s ugliness. His job is to deliver telegrams which in 1944 often contain news of the death of a soldier. On top of that, Homer is now the man of the house. He must provide food and shelter for his mother, his sister and his little brother, Ulysses.
Saroyan borrows quite a few of his themes for the book from classical mythology, specifically The Odyssey by Homer. The main character is named after him, as are a few of the minor characters such as Helen, Homer’s crush. The idea of home is a central theme and the fact that Homer with his job makes it possible for there to be a home for his mother; his sister, Bess; and for his four-year-old brother is emphasized throughout the book. Home is also where Homer’s older brother, Marcus, longs to be. Marcus talks so much about Ithaca and his family that another soldier, Tobey George, who is an orphan, begins to think of Ithaca as his home and Marcus’s family as his family.
The spiritual themes of the book is less overt. Ulysses, the little brother, is an observer of the world and also relieves the tension and sadness of the book by just being who he is — an adorable little boy who doesn’t talk much, but keeps getting himself into trouble. He’s saved from a new kind of animal trap that caught him and held him for several hours by a man named Big Chris. Lionel, Ithaca’s version of Boo Radley, considers Ulysses to be his best friend. Since neither of them can read, they go to the library just to admire the sheer number of books. Ulysses is also saved from the horror of Mr. Mechano, a vaudeville curiousity, by Homer’s friend, the newspaper boy.
In the end, a few characters die, and others are changed by their dealings with Homer. The heroes turn out to be ordinary people — Homer’s history teacher, Miss Hicks; Homer’s mother; and, of course, Homer himself. The fact that Saroyan dedicated the book to his own mother, Takoohi, speaks volumes. The book is a delight and it was a joy to discuss. The next book to read for the group is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. It’s the last book in the series until the group meets again in September. Read The Human Comedy by William Saroyan and then meet at the South Hill Branch to discuss Man’s Search for Meaning on April 19th from 6:30 to 8pm.