Thornton Niven Wilder: Life, Works, and Style

Early Life

Thornton Niven Wilder, a pivotal figure in 20th-century literary history, was born on April 17, 1897, in Madison, California, United States. His father, Amos Parker Wilder, served as a newspaper editor and diplomat, while his mother, Isabella Niven Wilder, was a homemaker. The family later relocated to China, where his father became the U.S. consul general. Thornton was not the only accomplished child in the family; his older brother, Amos Niven Wilder, became a professor, and his sister, Isabel Wilder, achieved recognition as a writer.


Thornton Wilder began his formal education at the English China Inland Mission School in Cheefoo while the family resided in China. However, due to the unstable political situation in China, the family returned to California in 1906. There, he attended Berkeley High School and graduated in 1915. He continued his education at Oberlin College and Yale University, earning his bachelor's degree in 1920.


Thornton Wilder's literary contributions continued to enrich the world of literature. However, this esteemed figure passed away on December 7, 1975. He was laid to rest at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hamden, Connecticut.

Some Important Facts about Him

  • He is widely recognized for his masterpiece, "Our Town," which received numerous honors and awards.
  • Thornton Wilder was a recipient of Pulitzer Prizes for notable works including "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," "Our Town," and "The Skin of Our Teeth."
  • He also received the U.S. National Book Award for the novel "The Eighth Day."
  • During World War II, he served in the air force and was honored with the Legion of Merit Bronze Star.


Thornton Wilder embarked on his writing career in 1920 when his first play, "The Trumpet Shall Sound," was published in the Yale Literary Magazine. The following year, he began working on his novel, "The Cabala," which was published in 1926. In addition to his novels, he completed his master's degree at Princeton University in the same year. His literary journey gained further momentum with the publication of "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," which established him as a prominent American writer.

Thornton Wilder's first dramatic work, "The Angel That Troubled the Waters," debuted in 1928, marking the beginning of his career as a successful playwright. His notable plays include "Our Town," "The Long Christmas Dinner and Other Plays," "The Long Christmas Dinner," "Pullman Car Hiawatha," "The Matchmaker," and "A Life in the Sun." While he produced a wealth of plays, his acclaim primarily rests on his novels, particularly "The Bridge of San Luis Rey."

His Style

Thornton Niven Wilder was renowned for employing a simple and traditional writing style. He skillfully utilized literary devices and techniques such as symbolism, imagery, exaggeration, paradox, and irony to make his work engaging and thought-provoking. His literary influences included great authors like Marcel Proust, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. In his famous work, "Our Town," Wilder delved into themes of morality and immorality, portraying both the beauty and darkness of life. His recurring themes included life, love, pain, morality versus immorality, the importance of companionship, and the transience of human life.

Some Important Works of Thornton Wilder

Some of Thornton Wilder's significant works include:

  • "The Trumpet Shall Sound"
  • "The Angel That Troubled the Waters and Other Plays"
  • "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"
  • "The Long Christmas Dinner and Other Plays in One Act"
  • "Such Things Only Happen in Books"
  • "Love and How to Cure It"

Additionally, he authored other works such as "The Cabala," "Ides of March," "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," "The Woman of Andros," and "Heaven’s My Destination."

Thornton Niven Wilder’s Impacts on Future Literature

Thornton Niven Wilder left an enduring legacy that continues to resonate in theaters worldwide. His works explore universal truths about human nature, demonstrating that human experiences are similar regardless of place or time. He saw the world as his home and was committed to effecting positive change through his realistic and creative ideas. His ability to convey his ideas in his works has led writers to adopt his distinctive yet exclusive style to express their thoughts, even in contemporary times.

Important Quotes

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.” (Our Town)

“Now he discovered that secret from which one never quite recovers, that even in the most perfect love one person loves less profoundly than the other. There may be two equally good, equally gifted, equally beautiful, but there may never be two that love one another equally well.” (The Bridge of San Luis Rey)

“Some say that we shall never know, and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer’s day, and some say, to the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God.” (The Bridge of San Luis Rey)


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