The story of The Human Comedy, and the characters Homer and Ulysses in particular, is based on Saroyan's life, living fatherless with his siblings and his mother. Ithaca, California is based on the real town of Fresno, Saroyan's home-town.
The book also has several references to Homer's Odyssey. Homer is both the name of the author of the Odyssey and the main character in this novel. Homer's young brother's name, Ulysses, is the Roman form of the name Odysseus, the Odyssey's protagonist. The theme of both of the books is going home. Ithaca is both Homer's and Ulysses' home-town in the novel and Odysseus' home-island in the Odyssey. Helen Eliot, referring to Helen of Troy, is used as the girl that Homer is in love with. It takes place during World War II.