Pessimism in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”
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Thornton Wilder epitomizes pessimism in “Our Town” through the everyday actions of the characters, the trivialness of life, and the attitudes of the dead toward their once loved world. People are spent through their meaningless everyday tasks, characters are shown to be worthless in comparison to the universe, and the attitudes of the dead about life are dull. These effects add up to illustrate Wilder’s idea of pessimism.
One way Wilder shows pessimism in “Our Town” is by the everyday actions of the characters. One can always predict what is going to happen to the characters because they do the same thing everyday. The stage manager knows when and where any of the residents are going to do something. “The only lights on in the town are in a cottage by the tracks where a Polish mother’s just had twins” (Wilder 756). Everyday the children eat breakfast and go to school. They simply let life pass them by smoothly and predictably. The dreary, pessimistic ideas are furthered by other characters. Everyday, Howie Newsome deliveries milk to the town residents on a horse named Bessie. Everyday, one of the Crowell brothers delivers the newspaper. Wilder deeply expounds on the ideas of pessimism through the everyday actions of the town residents.
Pessimism seeps through the trivialness of characters’ everyday lives. A magnificent example of this is when Jane Crofut receives a letter from her minister. It says, “Jane Crofut, The Crofut Farm, Grover’s Corners, Sutton Country, New Hampshire, United States of America, Continent of North America, Western Hemisphere, The Earth, The Solar System, The Universe, The Mind of God” (Wilder 768). This shows how diminutive Jane Crofut really is and how unimportant she is compared to all the people who every lived, live, and will live. The whole idea of being so unimportant compared to such a “sweeping backdrop” is depressing and pessimistic (Early 769). Emily’s joys and griefs, her algebra lessons and her birthday presents–what are they when we consider all the billions of girls who have lived, who are living and who will live? (Gillet) Pessimism can easily be seen when Wilder describes the unimportance of a single person.
The attitudes of the dead display a sense of pessimism when they think about life on earth. Simon Stimson criticizes the people on earth, saying, “They and their nonsense and their idiotic glee at being alive” (Wilder 793). Later, Emily goes on to say, “I never realized how troubled and how . . . how in the dark live persons are. From morning till night that’s all they are “Y troubled” (Wilder 795). After death, the people of Grover’s Corners no longer care about life on earth. They seem dulled by the fact that people on earth just do not seem to care about life and do not live life to its fullest. Once Emily decides to relive her most joyous day in life, her twelfth birthday, she finally realizes how ignorant and blind humans really are. The just seem to focus on the unimportant things in life instead of focusing on friends and family. They waste their life by doing everyday things such as school, chores, and sleeping, never living life as it should be. Pessimism shows itself in the attitudes of the dead toward life on earth.
Thornton Wilder exemplifies pessimism in “Our Town” through the everyday actions of the characters, the trivialness of life, and the attitudes of the dead toward their once loved world. People are used up through their empty daily tasks, characters are shown to be insignificant compared to the universe, and the attitudes of the dead about life are monotonous and depressing. These effects add up to illustrate Wilder’s idea of pessimism.