Absurdity In Human Evolution: Breaking Down The An Essay, Research Paper
Absurdity in Human Evolution: Breaking down the Antrobus Family and their tumultuous Environment. Following World War II, a war of ideology, people began to lose sight of what it meant to be human. Now entering the span of the Cold War people were thrust into paranoia and pessimism, and there needed to be a change of heart. So were introduced the Antrobus family, in Thornton Wilder s The Skin of Our Teeth. The Antrobus are the semblance and prototype of the human race on many levels: American, Biblical, and overall Universal. Their lives conjure up an allegorical connection with human evolution and perseverance over representative periods in history in which human resiliency must have been its mightiest. Using overwhelming allegory in characters and plot and a juxtaposition of settings, which lie on the brink of absurdity, Wilder projects his audience into a realm of human comedy to illuminate this universal message. There is one question which plagues the mind of every man. And within human consciousness, there is an unascertained force which drives man forward with unyielding faith that he, the human race, will come out on top. This question is simply: Why does humanity persist? We seem to believe that since we have gained consciousness, that part of the mind which estimates long term consequences and enables creative innovation, that we are no longer compelled simply by biological needs to survive but are driven by the need to fulfill intellectual contentment. Wilder probes this question using the Antrobuses as a compilation of humanity s most provocative elements such as intelligence, sexuality, and that genuinely human urge to place faith in the unknown. The most obvious allegory is the family s name, “As the name Antrobus indicates, All Mankind. Yet, because they stand for the entire race, they must have genuine human qualities” (Goldstein 508). At the beginning of Act I, a newsreel presents the audience into the story. The first lines of the play propel the audience into a disquieting yet familiar world. “The sun rose this morning at 6:32 a.m. This gratifying event was first reported by Mrs. Dorothy Stetson of Freeport, Long Island, who promptly telephoned the Mayor. The Society for Affirming the End of the World at once went into special sessions and postponed the arrival of that event for twenty-four hours” (7). Breaching the barrier between black humor and allegory, Wilder sets the tone, giving portent to the eminent doom that will reign throughout the play. George Antrobus is the paradigm of every man. He is introduced as the inventor of the wheel, lever, multiplication tables and the alphabet. In act I he has hired a telegraph boy to deliver an important message to Mrs. Antrobus, “Ten tens make a hundred semicolon consequences far-reaching Three cheers have invented the wheel” (21,23). It is evident that Antrobus s “inventions, his pride in scholarly attainments, such as they are, of his children, and his overriding wish to preserve human knowledge and dignity in the face of disaster establishes him as a figure representing the intellectual side of man s nature” (Goldstein 508). Wilder suggests, using Antrobus, that man s tendency and love for innovation is one of the many driving forces behind human evolution. It is this component in human behavior that aids in our preservation. Another driving force explored by Wilder is sexuality. It is Sabina the feisty and flirtatious maid that exemplifies, “The sensual quality in mankind By making her a comic figure Wilder demonstrates his boundless tolerance of this element in human nature” (Goldstein 509). Wilder establishes Sabina, a name derived from the tale of the Sabine women, as that part of humanity which desires only ephemeral pleasures such as wealth, beauty, and power, rather than fulfilling long term goals and dreams. Her character counterbalances Mrs. Antrobus who symbolizes the eternal mother. Wilder never hesitates to show that there is an historical rivalry between these to very human characters. This message is most poignantly displayed in Act I during Sabina s monologue. “She [Mrs.Antrobus] lives only for her children; and if it would be any benefit to her children she d see the rest of us stretched out dead at her feet If you want to know anything more about Mrs. Antrobus, just go look at a tigress, and look hard” (11). Later in the act, he reveals this rivalry very directly when Sabina and Mrs.Antrobus argue over Mr.Antrobus affections. Sabina is resentful that Mrs. Antrobus has become first wife so in a fit of disobedience she declares that, ” It s girls like I who inspire the multiplication table. I m sorry to say it, but you re not a beautiful woman”(17). Wilder has made it clear that sexual dominance is an important keynote in human behavior and that remising these elements will only distort our understanding of human activities.
Although Mrs.Antrobus portrays the universal nurturer, she also satisfies that human character which seeks spiritual gratification and relies on faith to persevere through hard times. In act III when George returns from the war, we find out that he has lost his sense of direction and now doubts his very strength and will to survive. In a plea, reminiscent a prayer, Mrs.Antrobus reveals that, “The only thought we clung to was that you were going to bring something good out of this suffering Oh George, you ll have to get it back again Even now, it s not comfort we want. We can suffer whatever s necessary; only give us back that promise”(117-118). This is an obvious proclamation of humanity and it confirms Wilder s message that religion is a powerful evolutionary tool. It is one that gives an otherwise desperate animal, man, direction so that he can prosper. However, a spiritual connection is not only made by Maggie. George s strong and hearty character also conveys this message. In Act III towards the finale of the play, George sums up Wilder s spiritual beliefs when he proclaims, “that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for-whether it s a field, or a home, or a country. All I ask is the chance to build new worlds and God has always given us that second chance, and has given us voices to guide us; and the memory of our mistakes to warn us” (120). The message of this play shines like a beacon in the night. It grabs humanity by its shirt tails and questions its existence. Wilder s allegorical approach is clear and the play drips from scene to scene with symbolism. But, if only one message rings true it is that of all the things that life does, persistence is an oddity and the most perplexing. “Wilder s thought is that God made the world and left the running of it to man with a belief that human activity is psychologically determined”(Goldstein 510). However, man does not just determine his destiny on thoughts alone. As a living organism, humans “psychologically” react to series of stimuli before they can invent their actions. This stimulus, Wilder might contest, is the environment, and he presents this element of human evolution as a juxtaposition of settings. If one thing is emphatically clear, it is the fact that The Skin of Our Teeth has no conceivable or by-the-book setting. The time period cannot be dated and certainly the stage directions are as sporadic and undefined as a storm, but this is in fact the point. The setting gives precedence to the mood which is hysteria. Punctuated throughout the play are absurd stage cues which render the audience in confusion. After revealing that a wall of ice is heading toward the Antrobuses home, later in the act a stage cue prompts, “a fragment of scenery, flat “B” to fly up into the lofts”(10). Brilliantly choreographed, the setting is a stylistic device used to create a sense of impending doom brought about by the various catastrophes in the play. Not only is the audience confused about the setting, Wilder makes it known that the characters themselves have no idea what is going on. In act I, Sabina breaks character and reveals her true self as Miss Somerset, the actress playing Sabina. Fed up with the ridiculous cues and lines she admits, “I hate this play and every word of it, any way,-all about the troubles the human race has gone through, there s a subject for you. Besides the author hasn t made up his mind as to whether we re all living back in the cave or in New Jersey”(13). Maybe it is this artistic charisma that allows Wilder to project his thought provoking theme without rendering his audience bored or perhaps intellectually exhausted. “Throughout the play Wilder will use these devices, presenting the action and then reminding us in various ways that it is only a play ,not reality at all”(Kuner 515). Provocative and absurd Wilder has delved deep into human consciousness and extrapolated the most aromatic notions about human existence. Using stylistic devices such as allegory and the juxtaposition of settings Wilder has established a exceedingly accurate comedy and commentary about humanities existence. Brimming over with intelligence and feeding ourselves innovation we create new reasons to stay alive. Sexual tensions and self-indulgence churn out wars and remind us that we are still animals while, as humans tend to do, adhering and giving spiritual qualities to the unknown so that we can prove to ourselves that we do after all have a reason to live. All Wilder is saying is that this reason for living is simply so we can survive. Funny.