Tragedy underlies The Human Comedy

Key from Morse telegraph set
Key from Morse telegraph set

With its large type, wide margins, and black-and-white illustrations, The Human Comedy looks deceptively like a children’s book. It is really a novel about unimaginable horror.

Homer Macauley, 14, is big for his age and reliable, which is how he got his job as a telegraph messenger. With his older brother in the army, Homer is the wage-earner for a family of five.

Homer pedals his way into situations no 14-year-old is ready for. He delivers messages from the War Department telling mothers and wives their sons and husbands are never coming home again.

William Saroyan follows Homer around Ithaca, California, showing the hell war raises far from the battlefield on the telegraph operator who relays the messages, the younger sisters of missing men, the little brothers whose heroes will never play catch with them again.

The incidents of the novel are a wacky, believable mix of farce and tragedy. William Saroyan has a bad tendency to let his characters break out in lectures, but most of the the time his prose is pared down, painfully sweet, and poignantly sharp.

The Human Comedy is a tale that will linger at the edges of your memory for a long time to come.

The Human Comedy
By William Saroyan
Illustrated by Don Freeman
Harcourt, Brace, 1943
1943 bestseller #5
291 pages
My grade: A-

Photo credit: Morse telegraph 2 by hisks

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

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