Thornton Niven Wilder

Early Life

One of the pivotal figures in the literary history of the 20th century, Thornton Niven Wilder, was born on the 17th of April in 1897, in Madison, California in the United States. His father, Amos Parker Wilder, was a newspaper editor and diplomat, while his mother, Isabella Niven Wilder, was a homemaker. Following his birth, the family moved to China where his father became the U.S. counsel general.  Niven was not the only bright son of his parents; his other sibling, too, achieved respectable life positions. His older brother, Amos Niven Wilder, became a professor and his sister, Isabel Wilder, became a popular writer.


Since the family moved to California in 1906, Niven Wilder started his formal education at the English China Inland Mission School at Cheefoo. Unfortunately, China’s unstable political situation pushed the family back to California in 1992, where he attended Berkeley High School and graduated in 1995. Later, he attended Oberlin College and Yale University and completed his bachelor’s degree in 1920.


Wilder’s pen and witty ideas continued overflowing his brimming mind and filling the literary world.  However, after providing a bulk of literary wonders, this legendary figure breathed his last on the 7th of December in 1975 and was interred at Mount Carmel Cemetery, Hamden, Connecticut.

Some Important Facts about Him

  1. He is widely recognized for his masterpiece, Our Town, which won various honours and awards for the writer.
  2. He earned Pulitzer Prizes for his remarkable works, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Our Town, and The Skin of Our Teeth.
  3. Wilder also won U.S. National Book Award for the novel The Eighth Day.
  4. During WWII, he served in the air force and was awarded the Legion of Merit Bronze Star.

His Career

He became a published writer in 1920 when his first play, The Trumpet Shall Sound, appeared in Yale Literary Magazine. The following year, he started working on his novel, The Cabala, which he published in 1926. Besides writing novels, he completed his master’s degree from Princeton University the same year. Following his previous publications’ success, he came up with another acclaimed work, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. This novel added more to his glory and made him emerge as a brilliant American writer. His first dramatic work, The Angel That Troubled the Waters, appeared in 1928, paving ways for him to become a popular writer of his time. His other 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. Although he produced tremendous plays, his acclaim relies largely upon his novels, particularly The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

His Style

A renowned American figure, Thornton Niven Wilder, is well-known for using simple and traditional style in his writings. To make his work fascinating and worth reading, he used has literary devices and techniques such symbolism, imagery, exaggeration, paradox, irony, and other sound devices. Most of his plays deal with traditional human values that he draws from the parable, fable, myths, and the influence of great literary authors like Marcel Proust, T. S Eliot, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. In his famous work, Our Town, the author has emphasized the spark of morality and immorality that exist in every human on the earth, leading him to depict the beautiful as well as the dark side of life. The major themes in his writings stand life, love, pain, immorality versus morality, The Importance of Companionship and The Transience of Human Life.

Some Important Works of Thornton Wilder

  • Best Plays: Some of his important plays 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 Ac, Such Things Only Happen in Books and Love and How to Cure It.
  • Other Works: Some of his other works include 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’s left a profound legacy to the world; even after many years of his demise, his plays and novels continue to resonate in the theaters across the globe. His works reveal his stance toward the universal truths in man’s nature, leading him to portray the same qualities in his characters showing that human experiences are similar regardless of place or time. He regarded the world as his home and was determined to bring possible changes in the world by utilizing his realistic and creative ideas. He expressed his ideas in his pieces so well that writers tend to opt for his distinct yet exclusive style to shape their thoughts even today.

Important Quotes

  1. “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)
  2. 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)
  3. “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)