In “Resurrection of a Life,” Saroyan explores the experiences of a ten-year-old boy facing the realities of life in a big city during World War I. Some of these experiences were quite harsh, while others were not as bad as they seemed to the boy at the time. In any case, this boy faced reality head-on, seeking to understand the world as it was rather than wishing it were different. It is likely that, as a boy, the narrator did not possess the insights described in the story but that, as an adult, the narrator infuses his memories with the wisdom that has come with age.
In some cases, reality is described as harsh and difficult to accept. When the boy shouted the news about the deaths of ten thousand German soldiers, he had mixed feelings. The narrator explains:
“He himself appreciated the goodness of the news because it helped him sell his papers, but after the shouting was over and he was himself again, he used to think of ten thousand men smashed from life to violent death, one man at a time, each man himself as he, the boy, was himself, bleeding, screaming, weeping, remembering life as dying men remember it, wanting it, gasping for breath, to go on inhaling and exhaling, living and dying, but always living somehow, stunned, horrified, ten thousand faces suddenly amazed at the monstrousness of the war, the beastliness of man, who could be so godly.”
In other cases, difficult realities are depicted somewhat optimistically. The episode in which the boy went to buy chicken bread for his family would sadden the reader were it not for the narrator’s presentation. Rather than feeling ashamed or belittled, the boy saw the chicken bread as perfectly edible and very affordable. To him, the chicken bread was a source of food, not humiliation. Similarly, the boy did not feel deprived living in a dilapidated house. He saw how wealthier people lived, yet he perceived his own home as a place where his family could be together. The narrator’s perceptions of his own life demonstrate that his cynicism about the world did not taint his satisfaction with his own situation, despite living in poverty.
Most of the story shows the boy in the setting of the big city where he sells newspapers. The city is both a source of income for his family and the venue for his self-education. He wanders inconspicuously into places like saloons and gambling houses, observing people. His comfort level in the city gives him a strong sense of belonging. When he considers nature, he quickly resolves that his rightful place is in the city instead. The narrator recalls, “The fig tree he loved: of all graceful things it was the most graceful…. and he climbed the tree, eating the soft figs…. But always he returned to the city.” In another passage, the narrator relates:
“In the summer it would be very hot and his body would thirst for the sweet fluids of melons, and he would long for the shade of thick leaves and the coolness of a quiet stream, but always he would be in the city, shouting. It was his place and he was the guy, and he wanted the city to be the way it was, if that was the way.”
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, William Saroyan, Published by Gale Cengage Learning.