A Passage About Death From A William Saroyan Book

William Saroyan won a Pulitzer Prize for the play, The Time of Your Life, in 1940. Also well known for his famous short story "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze," The Human Comedy was made into a movie (1943, Academy Award for Best Story), starring Mickey Rooney, with appearances by Van Johnson, Donna Reed and Robert Mitchum. It was remade with Meg Ryan as director, in 2014, with her as Homer's mother, and Sam Shepard as the only other recognizable name, (Okay, and Tom Hanks who appears a couple of times as Mrs. McCauley's (Ryan's) dead husband) as the others are newcomers, except for Jack Quaid, who is Ryan's and divorced husband Dennis Quaid's son. The remake received so-so reviews. Enough Hollywood background??

Well, alrighty then. You have a little history of the author and a little history of the book turned screenplay. Now you need a little of the setting. Isn't this scrumptious? Just like story telling hour. 

From William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy (1943), this is just one of about a half-dozen passages in this book that have made an impression on me. For obvious reasons, this one touches me, and probably always will. I wanted to share it's simplicity, and yet it's profoundness as well. And, this is towards the end of the book, the very end, last few pages, so if you think you may read this book, I hate to spoil it for you, but it really is not a complete surprise, as you are sort of expecting this will happen even though you are hoping it would not.

Okay, the setting, a little background to this scene. Saroyan grew up in Fresno, California. But, the book is a fictional town in California named Ithaca. After finding out from a telegram that came in at the telegraph office where Homer, age 14, has worked for the last six months as a messenger delivering telegrams (learning about life and death as some of the telegrams are about townspeople who have died in the war) his brother Marcus has been killed in the war (WWII)…Homer says to Spangler, the manager of the telegraph office where Homer works:

“What shall I do? What am I going to tell them? They’re waiting for me at home now. I know they are. I told them I’d be home for supper. How am I going to go into the house and look at them? They’ll know everything the minute they see me. I don’t want to tell them, but I know they’ll know.”

Spangler put his arm around Homer. “Wait,” he said. “Don’t go home just yet. Sit down here. Wait awhile. It takes a little time.”

They sat quietly on a park bench, not talking. After a while Homer said, “What am I waiting for?”

“Well,” Spangler said, “you’re waiting for the part of him that died to die in you, too—the part that’s only flesh—the part that comes and goes. That dying is hurting you now, but wait awhile. When the pain becomes death and leaves you, the rest will be lighter and better than ever. It takes a little time, and as long as you live it will take a little time, again and again, but each time it goes it will leave you closer than ever to the best that is in all men. Be patient with it, you will go home at last with no death in you. Give it time to go. I’ll sit with you here until it’s gone.”

“Yes, sir,” Homer said. The manager of the telegraph office and the messenger sat in the courthouse park of Ithaca, waiting.


Thomas, Susan J like this post.
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What wise words these are, and so very true. William Saroyan was obviously no stranger to the loss of a loved one; the shock, the ebb and flow of pain. Thanks for sharing this, Uncle :*)
You are welcome. It is obvious that you have felt loss yourself in the way you describe it... I feel like I am fulfilling some Duty or obligation or honor to share some of his writing I wish I could layout the six or seven other pieces of dialogue in the book that move me so much. He wrote a preface to of collection of his Works called the William Saroyan reader in which this novel was abbreviated and in this book called The William Saroyan reader he writes a preface as to why he writes one of the reasons he said initially was because it gives him a way to cheat death by leaving something of himself behind. Ultimately he said he writes because he likes to but it is obvious from his writing that it is both. There is one chapter where the mother in the story has just such wisdom for her son I wish all mothers possessed that kind of wisdom to be able to present exactly what is needed at the right time and there is another Passage of his ancient history teacher which is just beautiful about how people should treat each other with respect no matter their stature in life whether they are rich or poor no matter what their Origins are it was lovely when it was written and it is still lovely today. I am so glad you liked the selection
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WOW. But the passage begs the question: can it really happen so quickly for the pain to leave and to be lighter and better than ever? Surely not while sitting in a parking lot for an hour or two with a friend, no?
But I do love the insight on the basis of the pain. Thanks, Neal.
Hey don't overthink this it's a book it's fiction And he's 14 years old and he has to go home to his family and have dinner and there's more to the story cuz his brothers buddy in war a fellow comrade who survived because of his brother is waiting at the house etcetera Etc cetera so of course not can you get rid of the pain just like that no absolutely not it's the concept... But I do appreciate your pointing out the reality. I just liked it because of the fact that he talks about the pain never really going away and I just like the whole idea because there are times when you feel the pain and it subsides after a while is in an hour sitting on a bench in the park I don't know it could be a few minutes sometimes these days or it could be a couple of hours who knows and if I ever find who I'm going to give him a piece of my mind or her thank you Susan
And I do love that something like this could stimulate some kind of discussion
Thank you for writing about this book. I want to get it and read it as soon as I can get my concentration back. I haven't finished a book since Roger got sick. This book would probably be a great interest to me in many ways.

This sounds like a very interesting book.
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