The Skin of Our Teeth

by Thornton Wilder

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425

George Antrobus

George Antrobus, a citizen of the world. He wants to believe in the goodness of humankind and the survival of the race, but often his faith is shaken. A kind and generous man, he insists that starving refugees from the cold then enveloping the world be admitted to the house and fed, whereas his practical wife does not want to take them in. A good provider, he obtains a boat so that he can save his family during the big flood. After the great war, he decides to try to live in peace with his vicious son Henry. Striving to regain his confidence in humankind, he takes comfort in his books, his home, and the good people of the world.

Mrs. Antrobus

Mrs. Antrobus, George’s wife. She is a typical middle-class mother who loves her family and willingly sacrifices herself to their needs. Her typically female responses enable her to hold her husband, survive catastrophes, and perpetuate the race. When she is about to lose George to Sabina, she takes advantage of the coming great flood to bring him back to duty and family. When the great war comes, she finds safety in the basement for herself, her daughter, and, most important of all, her new grandchild.

Gladys Antrobus

Gladys Antrobus, their daughter, a wholesome girl much like her mother. Content to remain within the security of the family circle, she survives the great flood. By hiding in the basement, she and her new baby survive the great war as well.

Henry Antrobus

Henry Antrobus, formerly called Cain, the Antrobuses’ son, a nonconformist. When he hits his brother with a stone and accidentally kills him, his parents change his name from Cain to Henry and thereafter make every effort to hide his past. In another fit of hate, he kills a neighbor with a stone. In the great war, his aggressive temperament enables him to rise from the rank of corporal to that of general.


Sabina, the maid in the Antrobus household. She is the former mistress of George, who had brought her back from the Sabine rape. She leaves the Antrobuses and, as Miss Lily-Sabina Fairweather, wins a beauty contest at Atlantic City, after which she tries unsuccessfully to win back George.


Moses, a judge,


Homer, a blind beggar with a guitar,

Miss E. Muse

Miss E. Muse,

Miss T. Muse

Miss T. Muse, and

Miss M. Muse

Miss M. Muse, refugees from the killing cold who stop at the Antrobus house hoping to find food and warmth.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1457

Announcer The Announcer's voice narrates the slides and describes the "News Events of the World" at the beginning of Act I and Act II.

George Antrobus Mr. Antrobus is the father of not only a typical suburban American family but also the entire human race. The play's central character, he possesses the virtues and flaws of both the biblical Adam and the American Everyman. The inventor of the wheel and the alphabet, he "comes of very old stock and has made his way up from next to nothing." In Act I, he is the hardworking and innovative businessman who loves his family and values his books and must preserve them all from the approaching Ice Age. In Act II, he is the President of the Order of Mammals who is tempted to leave his wife for a beauty contest winner, but with the onslaught of catastrophic rains, he returns to his family and loads them—along with his potential mistress and two of every kind of animal—onto a ship that will withstand the coming flood. And...

(This entire section contains 1457 words.)

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finally in Act in, he returns to his family after a seven-year war, ready to unearth his books and rebuild civilization.

Gladys Antrobus The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus, Gladys is constantly admonished to act like a lady, put down her dress, and not wear makeup or red stockings. Her mother reminds her that she should try to be as perfect as Mr. Antrobus thinks she is, and she does attempt to please her father by reciting lessons. But in Act in she appears with an apparently illegitimate baby which seems to be the result of her Irrepressible sexuality.

Henry Antrobus The son of Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus, Henry is introduced as "a real, clean-cut American boy" who killed his brother in "an unfortunate accident." Later dialogue reveals that the dead brother was named Abel and Henry—who has a red mark on his forehead—used to be called Cain. These references clearly remind the audience of the biblical story of the two brothers. Henry demonstrates his violent nature throughout the play. In Act I Sabina reports he has "killed the boy that lives next door"; in Act II he threatens people with his slingshot; in Act III he expresses his desire to kill his father. Although Mrs. Antrobus always loves her son despite his evil character, Mr. Antrobus acknowledges in Act III that Henry is "the enemy" who starts wars and disrupts peace.

Maggie Antrobus Mrs. Antrobus is both the ideal suburban wife and the archetypal earth mother. She uncomplainingly endures nature's disasters, her husband's infidelities, and her children's disobedience, always facing each new crisis with energy and determination to survive. President of the Excelsior Mothers' club, "an excellent needlewoman" who "invented the apron," she "lives only for her children." Entirely defined by her domestic role, her motto is to "Save the Family," and in each Act of the play she manages to do just that.

Fred Bailey The Captain of the Ushers, Fred is one of the backstage workers called forward in Act III to take the place of actors who have fallen sick with food poisoning.

Broadcast Official In Act II, this man is trying, in the midst of chaotic activity, to get Mr. Antrobus to the microphone to give a broadcast to the conventions of the world.

Cain See Henry Antrobus

Chair Pushers Wilder's stage directions for Act II, using the sort of stereotypical racial designations typical of the years preceding the Civil Rights movement, note that “three roller chairs, pushed by melancholy Negroes, file by empty. Throughout the act they traverse the stage in both directions.''

Conveners Six conveners—attendees of the Annual Convention of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Mammals—appear throughout Act II, walking on the Boardwalk. Determined to enjoy themselves, they do not heed the Fortune Teller's warnings about the coming rain. Engaged in drinking, gambling, and other sorts of revelry, they taunt Mr. Antrobus about being domesticated and tied to his family.

Dinosaur The baby Dinosaur Dolly appears on the Antrobus's front lawn in Act I, is allowed in out of the cold, and behaves like a family pet. At the end of the Act when more room is needed for human refugees inside the house, Mr. Antrobus sends it and the Mammoth outside again, presumably to face extinction in the face of the oncoming ice age.

Doctor The Doctor is the first refugee who comes into the Antrobus home in Act I.

Dolly See Dinosaur

Esmerelda See Fortune Teller

Miss Lily-Sabina Fairweather See Sabina

Mr. Fitzpatrick The stage manager who comes out front at several points to deal with problems, such as Miss Somerset's refusal to act certain scenes or the illness of other actors which necessitates their being replaced by volunteers.

Fortune Teller The Atlantic City Fortune Teller who appears in Act II offers advice and words of wisdom to Sabina and other characters. The Fortune Teller also speaks directly to the audience, saying that it is easier to tell the future than to understand the past and that the Antrobuses are a reflection of those watching the play. Her comments point to the themes and concepts Wilder seeks to highlight.

Frederick See Mammoth

Mammoth The Mammoth comes into the Antrobus home in Act I along with the Dinosaur. Both animals act like pets until Mr. Antrobus sends them outside at the end of the Act.

Judge Moses The third refugee who enters the house in Act I, Judge Moses is an elderly Jewish man wearing a skull cap. The Judge's recitation in Hebrew, along with Mr. Antrobus's comment that this is the man "who makes all the laws," suggests that this is the biblical Moses who led the Jews out of Egypt and received the Ten Commandments from God in the Old Testament.

Muses The three sisters—Miss E. Muse, Miss T. Muse, and Miss M. Muse—enter the Antrobus home in Act I along with the other refugees. Their name and relationship suggests they are the sister goddesses from Greek mythology who inspired song and poetry.

Hester The wardrobe mistress, Hester, is another backstage worker called forward in Act HI to replace one of the actors who have fallen sick with food poisoning.

Homer The second refugee, "a blind beggar with a guitar," who comes into the house in Act I. Homer is "an old man" and "particular friend" of Mr. Antrobus. His name and Mr. Antrobus's comment that it was this man who "really started off the A.B.C.'s," suggest to the audience that this is the poet Homer who authored the Greek epics the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Ivy Miss Somerset's maid Ivy is one of the backstage workers called forward in Act III to take the place of actors who have fallen sick with food poisoning.

Lily Sabina See Sabina

Sabina The character of Sabina is described in the stage directions for Act I as "straw blonde" and "over-rouged"; she carries a feather-duster and plays the stock role from farce of the smart-mouthed maid. Her mercurial emotions, pessimism, and desire to have fun distinguish her from the unflinching, resilient, and pragmatic Antrobuses The sexy Sabina—whose name variations are meant to remind the audience of the biblical stories of the Sabine women and Lilith (in biblical legend, Lilith was Adam's first wife who was supplanted by Eve)—is the opposite of the maternal Mrs. Antrobus. A house servant and Mr. Antrobus's former mistress in Act I, Sabina appears in Act II as the winner of an Atlantic City beauty contest who is determined to lure Mr. Antrobus away from his wife. She reappears in Act III as a returning camp follower whose numerous liaisons have left her wishing "never... to kiss another human being'' again.

Not far into the first act, the actress playing Sabina, Miss Somerset, steps out of her role and addresses the audience in her own voice, revealing that she hates the play but has taken the part out of financial necessity. Miss Somerset will drop out of character several more times during the course of the play to express similar dissatisfactions. Her side comments, both as Sabina and Miss Somerset, provide much of the play's humor.

Miss Somerset See Sabina

Mr. Tremayne A dresser for the actor playing Mr. Antrobus, Mr. Tremayne is one of the backstage workers called forward in Act HI to take the place of actors who have fallen sick with food poisoning.

Ushers These two ushers rush down the theater aisles with chairs when Sabina calls out to the audience at the end of Act I, asking everyone to pass up their chairs for the fire to "save the human race."




Critical Essays