The First Day of School by William Saroyan
In The First Day of School by William Saroyan we have the theme of fear, pride, connection and happiness. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises from the beginning of the story that Saroyan may be exploring the theme of fear. Jim is afraid to go to school. He does not want to go nor is he happy about going. Amy is in the same position. She feels for Jim and allows her emotions to get the better of her and begins to worry about Jim and how he will get on in school. In many ways Amy appears to be living her life vicariously through Jim. Amy is also proud of Jim and how he reacts when he is introduced to Mr Barber. He does not let himself down. This may be significant as Saroyan may be suggesting that Jim is mature for his years or that he has overcome his fear. A natural fear that comes to a child (or adult) when introduced to new surroundings.
The theme of connection is self-evident in the story. Jim immediately is attracted to the rebellious streak of both Hannah and Ernest. For him the monotony that comes with education is forgotten about and the times spent in the school yard turn out to be the best of times for Jim. He is able to be himself and be confident. Something he may not necessarily have been on his first day of school when Amy was telling him that everybody had to go to school. A new world awaits Jim and he brings the happiness he feels at school home with him. Much to Amy’s amusement. This too could be significant as Jim grew up without his mother and with his father working he may have spent a lot of his time alone or by Amy’s side as she worked. So the fact that Jim is happy in school is good. He has found people his own age who make him happy and he makes them happy. The reader left suspecting that the bond between Jim, Hannah and Ernest will be permanent. There has been no awkward introduction or feelings that may scupper the relationship.
What is also interesting about the setting is that Saroyan clearly describes the school yet hesitates when it comes to Jim’s home. We get a little background information about Jim but nothing really about his father. The fact that his father couldn’t take Jim to school on his first day says a lot. It is possible that Mr Davy is too busy with work to take the time needed to bring Jim to school. Which may result in a double void for Jim now that his mother is dead. This might explain as to why Jim is so excited about going to school despite his initial reservations. In fact one can imagine that Jim springs out of bed on school days knowing that he will have fun with Hannah and Ernest. If it were not for them the reader cannot imagine Jim being happy or even wanting to go to school. He particularly likes Ernest’s jokes which make him laugh. Amy too is an important character as she probably knows Jim best and it is for this reason that she worries about him and what will happen him in school. She might also have been with the Davy’s since or before Jim was born. So she knows exactly what is missing in Jim’s life.
The end of the story is also interesting as Saroyan appears to be further exploring the theme of connection. Something that is noticeable when Jim’s father sits down beside him. This is the only occasion in the story in whereby the reader senses that Mr Davy is making any attempt to get to know his son. The fact that Saroyan had Mr Davy doing one thing, reading the paper, then shifting his focus onto Jim. Suggests the move is significant. Amy too realises how important Mr Davy’s actions are and Saroyan tells the reader that ‘tears came to her eyes.’ It is as though Mr Davy and Jim for the first time are a family. Everything that has happened them in the past is forgotten and there is only one way to go, forward. Jim has found happiness for the second time now that his father is taking an interest in him. Possibly for the first time since his mother died. Jim may have lost a mother but Mr Davy has lost a wife and gained a son. The future looks bright for the Davy’s.