Themes and Meanings
The Matchmaker is a play about accepting life, about the choice one has to make between living apart from it or participating fully in it. As Mrs. Levi says at the end of act 4: “There comes a moment in everybody’s life when he must decide whether he’ll live among human beings or not—a fool among fools or a fool alone. As for me, I’ve decided to live among them.” It is Dolly Levi’s return to the world that is at the heart of the play. Although the origins of the play go back to the early nineteenth century, the character of Dolly Gallagher Levi did not appear until Thornton Wilder introduced her in The Matchmaker, a revision of his own comedy The Merchant of Yonkers (pr. 1938, pb. 1939). Wilder had based this play on a comedy by Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy, Einen Jux will er sich machen (pr. 1842), which was in turn based upon an English original, A Day Well Spent (pr. 1835) by John Oxenford. By adding the character of the matchmaking widow and shifting the focus of the play to her “return to life,” Wilder transformed a hackneyed farce based on mistaken identities and improbable plot twists into an affirmation of life in an age of doubt and confusion.
At first Dolly Levi’s part in the play seems almost incidental; she appears to be simply a comic character whose interfering is pleasantly annoying and whose pursuit of Vandergelder is fairly obvious. Later, in the hat shop scene, she reveals herself less as a manipulative businesswoman than as a woman with heart whose purpose is to nudge destiny toward happy resolutions. Only at the end...
(The entire section is 662 words.)