They reveled in the courage
HOW clearly Homer Macauley of William Saroyan's ``The Human Comedy'' speaks to our young people (and what a paradox this is). Having taught English for years to junior high school students, I was always aware of today's problems: obscene language, accepted drug use, divorce and its many ramifications, and extramarital sexual activity. And yet, how hungry these sophisticated youngsters were for the values so long revered in our society. It never ceased to fill me with joy when we would begin a study of ``The Human Comedy.'' There were always the not-so-subtle questions: ``Will it be b-o-r-i-n-g?'' ``Do we have to read it all?'' ``Can't we ever choose our own books?'' They'd never heard of it but became vaguely interested on hearing that it was about the World War II period. ``Oh, yeah, wasn't that about 1900?''
To supply a little background, I always showed a documentary about the home front during that period. My own memories of that era helped also. ``Sure, we all were afraid of what might happen. I remember the gold stars in the windows and taking money to school every Monday to buy war bonds.'' Never had they been part of such a time of deprivation and caring.
Still, as we began the story, those worldly wise offspring were drawn into it. By the spring of the year, they knew that the easy words were deceptive, that the ideas and values were strong and sublime.
How they admired Homer, the young man who at age 14 worked at the local telegraph office after school to help out his family. Homer's father had died in the war, and his older brother was a new recruit. Sure, Homer exuded loyalty to family, home, and his job, too. He didn't complain about having to be responsible; it was all noted and discussed with admiration by my students.
Then there was the episode in the story when Miss Hicks, the ``maiden lady'' teacher, lectured about acceptance of others' backgrounds and beliefs. Homer and his classmate, Hubert Ackley the Third, were taught a lesson about the equality of man, and the precious right that we Americans have to stand firm for what we feel is right.
By this time, ``The Human Comedy'' had done as Saroyan had intended, capturing the hearts of my students. They solemnly considered Mrs. Macauley's philosophy that despite death, those whom we love exist forever in memories. And when the death of Marcus, Homer's brother, occurred, they sighed with longing to have the story continue. ``What happened to Homer?'' ``Did Tobey, Marcus's fellow soldier, marry Bess, Marcus's sister?''
It was always a lesson to me, a reading of this book, on the surface almost saccharine and seemingly trite. For once again it had seized the hearts of my nuclear-age sophisticates. They had reveled in the courage, responsibility, and caring, succinctly demonstrated in the story's characters, including Homer. It was always the year's favorite novel, one that proffered what we are almost afraid to champion to our young people, our dearest values.
Thus, I learned anew as Mrs. Macauley remarked, ``Nothing good ever ends,'' least of all, values.