Thornton Wilder and the Puritan Narrative Tradition

Thornton Wilder and the Puritan Narrative Tradition

Thornton Wilder and the Puritan Narrative Tradition

Thornton Wilder and the Puritan Narrative Tradition

Excerpt

America furnishes the landscape for the story of the pilgrim's progress. Like
the prairie of Cooper, the woods of Thoreau, or the whale of Melville,
America presents an untouched sheet of wilderness upon which to record the
trials and spiritual conversion of a saint.

—John O. King III, The Iron of Melancholy: Structures of Spiritual
Conversion in America from the Puritan Conscience to Victorian Neurosis

In retrospect, what may well deserve attention in the cultural history of our pe
riod will be Wilder as a distinctive type and product of our American society.

—Amos Niven Wilder, Thornton Wilder and His Public

Thornton Wilder (1897–1975) is but one of many nineteenth- and twentiethcentury British and American writers who have been said to bear the imprint of the cultural movement known as Puritanism. Unfortunately, by the middle of the twentieth century the word "Puritan" had become one of the most notorious labels in Anglo-American culture. The term calls to mind images of witches being put to death, a woman bearing an embroidered scarlet "A" for adultery, and drably dressed families sitting rigidly in church pews as they listen to a dour preacher threaten them with hellfire. In fact, the Puritans have been displaced, in the psychoanalytic sense, in our cultural . . .

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