Wilder Works And Time Theme

.. ime. Mrs. Antrobus also gains a new dimension (primitive life forms) which consequently expands her multi-personage to prehistoric times when the earth was dwelled by micro-organisms. This is interesting as far as the characters do not exist only as human beings but also as first primitive livings.

The experiencing of presented time is extended to its maximum. Being aware of living simultaneously on all time-levels, Mrs. Antrobus has (and still does) witnessed all recorded history. Her mind is full with all events in the history of the Universe – past, present and future. As Burbank rightly points out, it seems to be as if “time-present and time-past are put into the eternal present” for her.

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(Burbank, 1961: 106) The situation where awareness of the future could determine protagonists’ actions is impossible, as despite close link of all time-levels and their mutual penetrating, each of the processes happens separately while being a part of the whole. That is why protagonists experiencing all time-streams at once are unable to have an influence on their own future. The act ends with the biblical great flood and the end of the old world. Mr. Antrobus appears as biblical Noah (still together with being the Eternal Male – Adam) who saves his family and a pair of each kind of animals on his ark.

As far as plot is concerned, the last paragraph does not introduce many new things. The characters rebuild their home after the war and nature destroyed it. The leading character in this part is Henry who, being exposed to tyrannical systems, appears as embodiment of allegorical evil. “I’m going to be free even if I have to kill half of the world for it” (SOT, 1957: 131) However as far as experiencing time is concerned the last lines of The Skin of Our Teeth are of primary importance. This is where the proof for infinity and cycles of time is best presented.

The play ends exactly with the same words as it started. This stresses the recurrence not only of the history or the world but mainly of all human experiences and cycles of the life on the earth. This signifies that time has neither beginning nor end. Life or time is not a straight line. It may be, however, questioned whether circles or spirals make the already mentioned sphere. A circle suggests history repeat all the events without any change, but a spiral stresses people’s ability to learn something and be more experienced in the future. Antrobus confirms it saying: “We have learnt, we are learning.” (SOT, 1957: 88) Wilder’s vision, however, is rather pessimistic.

He seems not to believe in human’s mental development. But there is some hope in it. Human race will always manage to escape a catastrophe by the skin of its teeth even though the Nature will always threaten us with endless fear of annihilation. Knowing that Wilder rejects the theory of progress, Sabina’s words: “The end of this play isn’t written yet” (SOT, 1957: 137) indicate only that again “history will follow a similar cycle”. (Burbank, 1961: 108) The pessimistic vision does not mean Man is only a helpless prey in the endless cycles of disasters. In fact, he cannot do much about them but he can eliminate disasters which are directly, or indirectly, caused by Him.

Summing up the experiencing time in the play, it is clearly seen that all characters experience time multi-dimensionally and they live on all time-platforms simultaneously. They are aware of that and they posses subjective emotions towards some of their ‘incarnations’. Time in the play can be compared not to straight line but a sphere (circle) with no beginning and no end. They do not get old throughout the ages which signifies the resistance against the time flow. Our Town is not as much multi-dimensional as far as perception of time goes.

Grebanier says Wilder deliberately confuses time and allows various scenes “to go backward and forward over the years”. (Grebanier, 1964: 31) Having removed them, the presented time in the play could be perceived as linear. But multitude of ‘time-loops’ and ‘time-jumps’ proves it differently. While analyzing experiencing time by characters in Our Town, it is best to rely on Hall’s theories and anthropological research. In the book Dance of Life, Hall claims every second of human’s life is subordinated to specific rhythms; “biological clocks stay in sync with the normal rhythms and cycles of the external environment.

What happens inside is congruent with the outside world, so that while there are two kinds of time mechanisms (..) they behave as one”. (Hall, 1984, 18) Throughout thousands of ages, people learned to synchronize their biological clocks not only to the rising and setting of the sun or ripening of fruits but also to routines and daily occurrences. Each of the three days (and consequently each of the three acts), presented in the play, begins in exactly the same way – by a trivial conversation about the weather. Even the day of the wedding between Emily and George is no exception. “Howie Newsome: Morning Doc.

Dr. Gibbs: (..) goin’ to rain, Howie? Howie Newsome: No, no. Fine day” (OT, 1988: 294) In this moment, it is felt to be one of the ways of experiencing time by young protagonists. Reoccurrences of morning conversations about the weather make them aware of the time flow. Change of seasons is another of measuring systems and ways of experiencing time. This seems to be the oldest one known on the Earth.

“Three years have gone by. Yes, the sun’s come up over thousands of times. Summers and winters have cracked the mountains a little bit and the rain brought down some of the dirt. Some babies that weren’t even born have begun talking regular sentences already”. (OT, 1988: 315) The three acts embrace the entire life of an Everyman, virtually from the cradle to the grave and beyond it.

This life (time) is measured and experienced not by a clock but by a natural rhythm of daily and cosmological occurrences. Act I opens with childhood of Emily and George. The newspaper and milk delivery, cooking three meals a day, good morning’s and good-bye’s, washing, cleaning and singing in the choir constitutes a common day. The young protagonists experience time through the rhythm of such prosaic and trivial events. A postman, for instance, is given another meaning: his paper in the mailbox signifies the night is over and the next day has just started.

The characters’ time, in Act I, is presented linearly. The undisturbed sequence of events together with no retrospections within the part proves it. Yet, what is interesting is the duality or double-dimensionality of time. There is time of action in Grover Corners where characters live and universal (general) time of mankind. Universal dimension of protagonists (idea of Everyman) must take place in universal dimension of time.

Wilder expanded the universal time millions of years back to the prehistory. “Grover’s Corners lies on the old Pleistocene granite of the Appalachian range. I may say it’s some of the oldest land in he world”. (OT, 1988, 300) As he, himself, told it was deliberate as he wanted to “set the village against the largest dimension of time”. (Wilder, 1957: XI) The duality of time justifies lots of transitions and ‘jumps’ in time within the play. The fragmentation of presented plot does not affect the general significance of the play. It is realized on the universal dimension and only exemplified by means of Emily and George’s life history.

The proof can be again Wilders’ words that the play “is not offered as a picture of life in a New Hampshire village (..) It is an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life”. (Goldstein, 1965, 106) The presentation of only three, most important parts of the protagonists’ life does not distort this message. Emily and George live their lives continuously anyway. All the ‘time-jumps’ together with the transmissions between particular acts (recounted verbally by the Stage Manager later on) are one of forms of presenting the drama on the stage which is out of interest for this work. But it is worth to realize it serves the theatrical purposes.

The third act of Our Town brings many changes in experiencing time. Emily dies and she rejoins the dead relatives and acquaintances. From now on, the plot unfolds dually. There are two worlds (of the living and the dead) which are linked through the person of Emily. Consequently there are three times: time of the living, never-ending time after life and the generalized eternal.

It can be questioned, though, if the middle one can be called ‘time’, as the dead are able to revisit any chosen fragment of history of mankind. This excludes the participation to any kinds of time. Coming back to Emily, she is allowed to cross the border separating life from death and revisits her home on the day of her twelfth birthday. This was one of most boring moments in her life as choosing the most interesting day would be too painful. She only ‘witnesses’ the time of her past but she does not re-live the day or does not experience the earthly time which is proved by her invisibility: “Oh, Mama just look at me one minute as though you really saw me” (OT, 1988, 353) Living means having body and being exposed to processes of time which she is out of.

After death, Emily, like all the dead from the local cemetery, still has her conscious and has the inaccessible for a human knowledge of judging everything from the perspective of eternity. “Do any human beings realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?’ (..) I didn’t realize. (..) Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you”. (OT, 1988, 354) The play ends with a new day dawning at Grover’s Corners as if nothing serious has happened. And in fact, having in mind eternity, it is not important. What is important, however, is the every moment of our human existence – all the petty peculiarities of everyday life.

People’s tragedies, as big as they are, do not disrupt the eternal order of things. “There are the stars – doing their old, old crisscross” (OT, 1988: 356) Summing up the experiencing time in the play, it is clearly seen that the characters are three dimensional – individual, general and eternal. The story of Emily and George is only a supporting example of the overall message of Our Town. That is why they are not aware of their roles and the general (universal) dimension of what they do.