Analyses on Saroyan's literature
06 Mar 2019
While William Saroyan cultivated his prose to evoke the effect of a “tradition of carelessness,” of effortless and sometimes apparently formless ruminations and evocations, he was in reality an accomplished and conscious stylist whose influences are varied and whose total effect is far more subtle than the seemingly “breezy” surface might at first suggest. His concern for the lonely and poor—ethnic outsiders, barflies, working girls, children—and their need for love and connectedness in the face of real privation recalls Sherwood Anderson.
All of Saroyan’s best work was drawn from his own life (although the central character must be regarded as a persona, no matter how apparently connected to the author). In this aspect, and in his powerful and economical capacity to evoke locale and mood, Saroyan is in the tradition of Thomas Wolfe. The empathetic controlling consciousness and adventurous experiments with “formless form” also place Saroyan in the tradition that includes Walt Whitman and Gertrude Stein. It might also be noted that Saroyan’s work shows the influence of Anton Chekhov in his use of seemingly “plotless” situations which nevertheless reveal some essential moment in the characters’ lives and philosophical insight into the human condition.
Certainly, while the tone of Saroyan’s stories evolves from the richly comic to the stoical to the sadly elegiac mood of his later work, his ethos stands counter to the naturalists and the ideologically programmatic writers of the 1930s, the period during which he produced some of his best work. Often his stories portray the world from the perspective of children, whose instinctual embrace of life echoes the author’s philosophy. Saroyan wrote, “If you will remember that living people are as good as dead, you will be able to perceive much that is very funny in their conduct that you might never have thought of perceiving if you did not believe that they were as good as dead.” Both the tone and outlook of that statement are paradigmatic.