Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Welsh, Wil||Carlson, Harry S.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Speech


Wilder; Thornton; 1897-1975


Though Thornton Wilder has published only three major length plays; this work has been the subject of controversy, receiving both high acclaim and severe criticism. His use of style has been labeled trickery and his themes have been dismissed as pretentious and sentimental. Yet his background, indicates a desire to communicate significant ideas through drama and a conscious working toward unity of style and theme. His efforts have exhibited experimentation in the evolution of what has been called a theatrical style. In essays concerning playwriting Wilder has indicated the need to use conventions of theatre to communicate to the group-mind. This study examines the three major plays of Thornton Wilder in order to determine whether he has been able to communicate significant ideas in unique and imaginative ways. The central idea of each play is identified, and a demonstration of how each idea has influenced the particular use of style is made. Next the stylistic treatment of the basic elements of character, action, language, arid spectacle are described as Illustration of the way his style reveals and reinforces theme. Finally, the parallels and differences in treatment are noted. In Our Town Wilder deals with three universal moments of significances daily life, marriage, and death In a narrative which uses the town as a protagonist to illustrate the theme that Man fails to recognize that the significance of his life lies in the common experiences of dally life and the human relationships he forms. The Stage Manager serves as a unifying factor in tying together the diverse pieces of action involving the typical, common people which populate the town. By having the action take place on a bare stage, Wilder seeks to raise the action to a level of Imagination and thus; communicate a generalized truth. The Skin of Our Teeth telescopes all time into three major crises confronted by Mankind: the ice age, the flood, and war. The allegorical Antrobus family symbolizes the eternal family of Man and at the same time represents a modern American family. Their struggles illustrate, as parable, the theme that Man has been able to overcome and will continue to overcome the crises he has to confront by reliance on his higher qualities and the wisdom of the ages. Once again Wilder has drawn on stylistic devices to highlight pretense and to make possible the treatment of such a theme. These devices include: burlesque, anachronism, direct address, quotation, symbol, theatrical setting, and the playing of double roles by characters. The Matchmaker is a modern adaptation of an older farce. Mr. Wilder has used conventions of theatrical stock characters, involved in contrived actions such as: mistaken identity, disguises, overheard conversations, hiding, and discoveries, to illustrate his theme that an individual needs to shake off the shackles of convention and propriety from time to time and live life fully. Farcical conventions also influence the use of a full setting and language as implements of humor. This attention to convention aids Mr. Wilder's second purpose: to parody an earlier theatrical style. Thus we find parallels in the humanistic affirmation of the themes of the plays and in stress on common experience, on moments of crises, and on the use of convention. Stylistic devices which Wilder has given unique use include: the Stage Manager, direct address, symbols, type characters, colloquial prose dialogue, and theatrical staging. The differences in each play indicate that his themes have dictated his use of style; and the styles he has used have revealed and reinforced his themes.


Includes bibliographical references.


3, v, 81 pages




Northern Illinois University

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