Places: The Time of Your Life

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1939

First produced: 1939, at the Shubert Theatre, New Haven, Connecticut

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1939

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*San Francisco

*San Time of Your Life, TheFrancisco. Port city in Northern California in which the play is set. Saroyan delighted in setting his tales in his native California. While he often preferred rural locations, he also used urban settings, and although he wrote this play in New York City, his heart was in San Francisco, where he lived and secured a place for his mother to live. It was a city he knew well–and for him it provided daily illustrations of the miracle of life. By 1939, when this play was first produced, San Francisco had approached its peak population and the surrounding Bay Area region contained about a third of California’s inhabitants. As a transportation hub, the city drew together people from all over the Americas and the world, who arrived by ship under the Golden Gate Bridge, or by rail over the Union Pacific lines. Nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 1906, the city was constantly reinventing itself. As one character in the play puts it, San Francisco has “no foundation, all the way down.” That kind of life on the edge, both physically and socially, appealed to Saroyan and inspired the cast he created to populate a typical Bay Area bar.

Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon

Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon. San Francisco waterfront bar in which the entire play is set. The saloon is the kind of honky-tonk that Saroyan loved–a place in which drinkers can talk, play music, and dance, while hearing the blare of foghorns from the bay. Its furnishings include card tables, a marble game, a juke box, piano, small dance floor, and a long bar. A uniquely American place, the saloon has characteristics of a church–a place in which confessions are made and heard. It is also a stage on which talent is displayed in talk, by tap, and on the keyboard. It is microcosm of pure democracy in which Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy prevails–a place in which no one is the inferior of or superior of anyone else.

Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the rise of European fascism, and the beginning of a new world war, Nick’s Saloon is also a rehabilitation center, a meeting place, in which perceptions of difference can be transcended by a shared recognition of human value. As Saroyan himself noted, Nick’s is committed to the belief that life can be redemptive. Finally, Nick’s is a philosopher’s club; bartender Harry believes that the world is sorrowful and needs laughter, which he will provide. The power of Nick’s Saloon, in the script, on the stage, and in its screen adaptation, is that it possesses the delightful ambiguity of being both ordinary, like any neighborhood tavern, and also extraordinary, a special place in which life can be made whole.

BibliographyCalonne, David Stephen. William Saroyan: My Real Work Is Being. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983. A thorough account of Saroyan’s life and work. Chapter 5 interprets The Time of Your Life as a play that views life as chaotic and miraculous and relates the play to vaudeville and to the theater of the absurd.Floan, Howard R. William Saroyan. Boston: Twayne, 1966. Discusses the four main periods and genres of Saroyan’s writing: short fiction, drama, the novel, and autobiography. Chapter 4 interprets the play as a microcosm of America’s romanticized past and its harsh economic reality.Foster, Edward Halsey. William Saroyan: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne 1991. A valuable work that combines literary criticism of Saroyan’s short fiction, autobiographical writings, and an interview with Saroyan. Includes the estimations of several critics of his place in American literature.Hamalian, Leo, ed. William Saroyan: The Man and the Writer Remembered. London: Associated University Presses, 1987. A collection of essays and memoirs by critics, friends, and admirers of Saroyan. An excellent miscellany that examines topics from Saroyan’s experience in an orphanage to the literary influences that shaped his art.Lee, Lawrence, and Barry Gifford. Saroyan: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1984. A biography of Saroyan based on many interviews with his friends, acquaintances, and family members. Provides the background and details of the film version of The Time of Your Life.Leggett, John. A Daring Young Man. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Leggett relies heavily on Saroyan’s journals to produce a sustained glimpse of the author that is neither admiring nor forgiving.
Categories: Places