The life of a person can greatly be influenced by early life experiences. Such was the case of Thornton Wilder as his early childhood experiences and his college life greatly impacted the development of his writing techniques in many of his acclaimed novels and plays. It can be seen through his literary works, such as the play Our Town, that his exceptional style of writing truly reflects the influences he had during his lifetime. His experiences with his family and the inspiration built by the admiration of a professor helped Thornton Wilder to grow into a unique author with a distinct style that set him apart from many other notable authors. His exceptional style of writing definitely reflects the experiences of his early life and helped shape his unique writing style that no other person can replicate.
Thornton Wilder lived a difficult childhood. As a child, Thornton became very independent and sensitive, which probably developed as a result of separation from his family during most of his childhood years. Thornton s mother, Isabella Niven Wilder, was a very religious lady and she spread her strong beliefs of religion down to her son. Amos Wilder, Thornton s father, was a very strict man and he often asked too much of Thornton. He expected Thornton to become very intelligent, athletic, and wanted him to have the power of concentration and the ability to do uncongenial things (Goldstone, 13). All these desires of his father led him to have a psychologically damaging effect on Thornton (Goldstone, 10). Thornton always was aware of his father s disappointed judgment of his character and capacities (Goldstone, 13). However, he could not help curb his desires of music, art, drama, and literature. He was turning out to be precisely what Amos did not want (Goldstone, 13). As a result, Thornton grew very sensitive and lived most of his high school years unhappily. After graduating from high school, Thornton s most influential moment probably came from his college experience. His father had enrolled him at Oberlin College in Ohio. While attending the college, Thornton Wilder was greatly inspired by the chairman of the English Department at Oberlin, Professor Charles H. A. Wager. The two became to be very close as a result of common interest and also because Wager revealed to Thornton a kind of spiritual world through his lectures and this struck a responsive chord in Thornton who was at that time, and for many years after, profoundly religious or, at least, aesthetically drawn to spiritual matters (Goldstone, 23). After attending Oberlin College, Thornton transferred to Yale University. Yet he was disappointed to find the teachings less inspirational as he had found at Oberlin. After he graduated, he went to Europe to study archaeology in Rome at the American Academy (Burbank, 15). He then accepted a job as a teacher at Lawrenceville Academy in New Jersey (Burbank, 15). He started concentrating more on writing while at New Jersey and published his first novel, The Cabala, in 1926. However, that was not the novel in which he received fame for. He had recognizable popularity when he published his acclaimed novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, in which he won a Pulitzer Prize. After earning enough money from this novel, he became a full time writer and continued to publish many successful novels and plays (Wilder, 115). His early life had a great influence on his writing and he was able to develop his unique style of writing through those experiences.
During Thornton Wilder s life, Wilder was almost always separated from his family and the lack of love he received had a strong influence in his writing. During his high school years, he lived at a boarding school and his father was very strict on him to do well in school and to become very athletic. After Thornton received poor grades and had developed interest in other subjects that his father disliked, his father grew very disappointed in his son. As a result, Thornton Wilder grew very sensitive to his father and felt very unloved (Goldstone, 13). It was very hard for Wilder to grow up having a passion for drama and literature while his father disapproved of those subjects. As a result, the absence of displaying love from his father greatly influenced Wilder s themes in his plays and novels. The themes in Wilder s plays and novels mostly deal with the importance of love and how time should be cherished on all the loving moments. In the play, Our Town, Wilder tried to show the importance of love and how loving moments should be cherished when he uses the character Emily. Emily is a character who died and is a spirit. She tries to look back at her life but all she sees is a life of ignorance and blindness (Wilder, 109). When she looks back at her life to see her family altogether, she realizes that all her life she s been with her loving family, they [didn t] have time to look at one another and cherish the loving moments (Wilder, 108). This shows that Wilder tried to show the audience the importance of love in people s lives and how we ignore the precious moments. This theme is truly influenced by Wilder s own life when his father ignored the dreams of Thornton and instead was very disappointed in Thornton s desires for literature. The absence of love affected Wilder very much and influenced him to try and show his readers the importance of love in life. This was one way Thornton s early life influenced his writing.
Another great influence in Thornton Wilder s life that helped develop his writing was his college life. While attending Oberlin College, Thornton Wilder was able to express himself more freely and was totally immersed in the cultural life of the college (Goldstone, 21). He wrote short plays for the school and even got to perform in them (Goldstone, 21). Throughout his college life, he was able to expand his writing techniques and to learn more about his desires in literature. However, probably the greatest influence in Thornton s writing came from a teacher, Professor Charles H. A. Wager. Thornton, who was religious and drawn to spiritual matters, was very interested in Professor Wager s lessons on the spiritual world. It was very fascinating to Thornton Wilder and the kind of spiritual world that Wager revealed to Thornton was a feast for the young man s senses (Goldstone, 23). He was greatly drawn toward this subject and it can be seen that it had a great influence on his writing because of the fact that in his novels and plays, he uses the spiritual world to try and enforce his themes. In the play, Our Town, he uses the spiritual world to try and enforce his theme. In the play, when the people who are dead go to the spiritual world, they look back at their lives as spirits and realize the mistakes they have made in their life, such as [moving] about in a cloud of ignorance and not spending time wisely with loved ones (Wilder, 109). The use of spirits only adds strength to support Wilder s theme because it helps the reader realize that after death, it is too late to fix things. So Wilder tries to use spirits who regret their lives so that the audience can learn the theme and try to live life to the fullest and not regret what happens in life. All in all, it is shown that Wilder s use of the spiritual world in his plays and novels were influenced by his college professor. His professor had a great impact on his writing career and Wilder s experience with him expanded his creativity and helped develop a unique style of writing literature.
Thornton Wilder s early life experiences definitely had an impact in the outcome of his own writing style. From the experiences he encountered with his family to the inspiration he received from his teacher, they all added up to create one of the most phenomenal writing style the world will ever know. From careful analysis of his life and his work, it is apparent that the two factors have intertwined to create many of the acclaimed novels and plays known throughout the world. The result of such an extraordinary style of writing is the effectiveness in trying to help the audience realize the true importance of cherishing the special moments in life instead of taking many things for granted.