The Human Comedy (novel)

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The Human Comedy
William Saroyan - The Human Comedy (novel).jpg
First edition cover
AuthorWilliam Saroyan
IllustratorDon Freeman
CountryUnited States
Publication date
February 4, 1943
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)

The Human Comedy is a 1943 novel by William Saroyan.


Homer Macauley is a 14-year-old boy growing up fatherless in the San Joaquin Valley of California during World War II. His oldest brother, Marcus, is off fighting the war, and Homer feels he needs to be the man of the family. To make money, he takes an evening job as a telegraph boy: sometimes he has to deliver the news to a family that a son has died in the War. Yet Homer also keeps up his normal life, going to school, to church, and to the movies. He is buoyed by his home and his loving family, including a very young brother and a mother who plays the harp. His roots and an almost instinctive sense of right and wrong keep him honest and hopeful. The novel was written to give hope during World War II.[citation needed]


Main characters[edit]

  • Homer Macauley – Protagonist, 14-year-old telegraph messenger living in fictional town of Ithaca, California
  • Katie Macauley – Homer's mother, who plays the harp
  • Bess Macauley – Homer's elder sister, who plays the piano
  • Mary Arena - Neighbor, girlfriend of Homer's brother Marcus, friend of sister Bess
  • Ulysses Macauley – Homer's 4-year-old brother
  • Mr. Grogan – Owner and old-time telegraph operator of Ithaca's telegraph station
  • Mr. Spangler – Manager of telegraph station

Minor characters[edit]

  • Miss Hicks – Homer's history teacher, who moralizes during Homer's detention
  • Hubert Ackley III- Homer's rival
  • Auggie Gottlieb – Newspaper boy and leader of a neighborhood gang of young boys
  • Matthew Macauley – Homer's deceased father
  • Marcus Macauley – Homer's elder brother, enrolled in the Army
  • Mr. Ara – Town grocer
  • Diana Steed - Mr. Spangler's girlfriend
  • "Girl on the corner"

Themes and setting[edit]

The story of The Human Comedy, and the characters Homer and Ulysses in particular, is based on Saroyan's life, living fatherless with his siblings and his mother. Ithaca, California is based on the real town of Fresno, California, Saroyan's hometown.

The book contains several references to Homer's Odyssey. Homer is the name of both the author of the Odyssey and the main character in this novel. Homer's young brother's name, Ulysses, is the Roman form of the name Odysseus, the protagonist of Odyssey. The books share the theme of returning home. Ithaca is both Homer's and Ulysses' hometown in the novel and Odysseus' home island in the Odyssey. Helen Eliot, referring to Helen of Troy, is used as the girl that Homer loves.

The story occurs during World War II.


Dell paperbacks released a revised edition of the novel in 1966. The revised edition is credited to William Saroyan, with several substantial edits that reduce the story to 192 pages.[1]



The original film was released in 1943.

A second version, Ithaca (2015), was directed by Meg Ryan. Filming began in Richmond, Virginia and Petersburg, Virginia in July 2014.[2]

Comic strip[edit]

In 1943 Nick Hoffer drew a newspaper comic strip based on The Human Comedy, which ran in Le Petit Journal, a Québec newspaper. [3]


The book was adapted by S. Lee Pogostin for television in 1959. This adaptation stars Michael J. Pollard and features narration by Burgess Meredith.


  1. ^ Changes to "The Human Comedy" by William Saroyan – 1943 and 1966 editions
  2. ^ Heil, Emily (June 23, 2014). "When Sally met Terry: Meg Ryan's directorial debut to film in Va." The Washington Post. Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  3. ^

External links[edit]

Urdu Translation by Shafiq-ur-Rahman titled "Insaani Tamasha"