Critical Context

Common threads run through many of Wilder’s plays and novels. In The Eighth Day as in Our Town (1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1942), his imagination focuses on family relationships—both the loyalty and the conflict of close families. The same fondness for editorial comment and omniscience that created the character of the Stage Manager in Our Town (a role that Wilder himself played for two weeks on Broadway) breaks forth in The Eighth Day. As in The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), published forty years earlier, this novel begins with sudden death and proceeds to scrutinize its meaning and effects. Like The Ides of March (1948), The Eighth Day develops its story of a murder by moving back and forth in time. There are many other thematic and technical similarities to other Wilder works.

While Wilder’s best plays are highly innovative, his novels are more conventional, and the narrative technique of The Eighth Day works against its theme to some extent. Like Joseph Conrad and William Faulkner before him, Wilder uses chronological shifts and dislocations to develop the sense of an unfolding truth, but he undercuts the effect with fussy references to this technique (“as we shall see,” “as I shall have occasion to say”). Such disparities seem to reflect an unresolved tension in Wilder between his receptivity to highly original minds and talents (for example, his...

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