Thornton Wilder and the Puritan Narrative Tradition

By Lincoln Konkle | Go to book overview

Six
Covenant Reborn

Wilder's Reaffirmation of the American Errand

The vision of the Puritan Jeremiahs recalls still another reason for the rise of
colonial literary studies. … The emigrants thought of themselves as a "new
Israel" on an "errand" to found a "city on a hill." … The New World … was
the modern counterpart of the wilderness through which the Israelites
reached Canaan.

—Sacvan Bercovitch, The American Puritan Imagination

If Thornton Wilder's darker vision in The Seven Deadly Sins and The Seven Ages of Man seemed puzzling, even more puzzling was the return of his optimistic faith in the progress of civilization and the affirmation of America in his novel of the 1960s, The Eighth Day. Developments in world and domestic affairs that might have caused Wilder's postwar malaise had grown worse, and Wilder himself was ten years older by the time The Eighth Day was published in 1967. The proliferation of nuclear arms and the heating up of the Cold War had brought the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. America's involvement in the Vietnam War had escalated under President Lyndon Johnson. The youth of the day were opting for a lifestyle epitomized by the hedonistic slogans "Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" and "Tune in, turn on, and drop out"—about as far from the stereotypical Puritan values of faith, family, and hard work as a culture can get. If ever there had been a time in the twentieth century up to that point when circumstances would

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