“Resurrection of a Life” is typical of Saroyan’s short fiction in style and content. Stylistically, the story is
representative of Saroyan’s short stories in its first-person narration, rambling plot line, and ultimately optimistic
outlook. The story’s content is typical of Saroyan’s work in its autobiographical elements, inclusion of the
subject of death, and optimistic tone.
Saroyan dropped out of high school and worked as a telegram messenger until 1926, when he moved to San
Francisco to pursue a career in writing. After years of writing stories for magazines, “Resurrection of a Life”
first appeared in Story magazine in 1935, and was included in Saroyan’s second collection of fiction in 1936
titled Inhale & Exhale.
“Resurrection of a Life” consists mainly of the narrator’s recollections of his life as a ten-year-old paperboy in
1917. He sold newspapers by standing on busy public sidewalks and shouting the headlines to passersby. As a
result of this work, he was faced daily with the events of World War I. In addition, he was from a poor family.
These factors made the child cynical, and he sought stability and certainty in a difficult time.
The story opens with the narrator commenting that the events of the past have no death because they remain
alive in his memories. He notes that he often wandered into saloons, whorehouses, and gambling
establishments to watch people. He also watched rich people eating ice cream and enjoying electric fans, and
silently rebuked them for ignoring the realities of the lives of the less fortunate. Another place he liked to go
was the Crystal Bar, where men drank, played cards, and spat on the floor. He was disgusted by a fat man who
came every day in the summer and slept. Finally, he describes going to the cinema and seeing the falseness of
the films that somehow revealed the truth of his world.
Regarding himself as worldly and insightful, the boy had no use for school. He was not interested in listening to
teachers, and he considered himself superior to the other children.
The boy often went to The San Joaquin Baking Company early in the morning to buy “chicken bread.” This was
bread that fell on the floor during the wrapping process, and people bought it to feed to their chickens. The
narrator, however, bought it for his family. The man who sold him the bread knew why the boy bought it but
preserved the boy’s dignity by pretending to believe that he had chickens. The narrator remembers having
noticed that this man always chose the best loaves of chicken bread for him.
The narrator also describes the house in which he and his family lived. The roof leaked, the floor sagged, and it
was full of insects, but the family did not mind because they were together and had a place to live.
The narrator recalls a time when the headline he shouted was about ten thousand huns being killed. (During
World War I, hun was a disparaging term used to describe a German soldier.) Although he liked that the news
helped him sell newspapers, he was disgusted at how happy people were about so much death. He relates that
he sees war differently than historians do. While historians often view war as a series of events accompanied
by statistics, the narrator sees it one man at a time. He believes that death is a personal experience in which
the universe ends for one man.
The narrator recalls accompanying his family to church. He dressed in his best clothes and loved the songs,
but he doubted the existence of God in a world of hate, ugliness, death, suffering, and poverty. He saw too
many places in the world where God seemed absent, but he could not bring himself to completely reject the
idea of God’s existence.
Collette as described in the narrator’s childhood memories, Collette was a prostitute who ran her business,
Collette’s Rooms, over The Rex Drug Store. There is no direct interaction between the narrator and Colette, so
the reader is given little insight into her character. Her character, however, shows that the narrator was not
naïve as a child. He knew who she was and what her business was, and he spoke of her in a straightforward
manner rather than in the awkward manner that might be expected of a ten-year-old boy.
Fat Man -- As a child, the narrator was repulsed by a fat man who slept in the Crystal Bar saloon every day in
the summer. The fat man slept there all day; he did not play card games such as poker with the other men.
Although little is said about the fat man’s character, his inactivity and heaviness disgusted the narrator, who
imagined that this man had no dreams and assumed that he was not alive in the same way that the he himself
was. Because the narrator was a paperboy who shouted headlines to sell newspapers, he spent every day
submerged in the events of the war. The fat man’s passiveness and apparent apathy were inconceivable to the
The narrator returns to the present as the story concludes; he is sitting in a room alone at night. He explains
that he has learned that all people can do is keep breathing and carrying on with their lives in the face of
pleasure and pain. He ends by declaring that he is glad to be alive, “glad to be of this ugliness and this glory,”
adding that he believes that there is no death and never will be.