The Skin of Our Teeth Themes
by Thornton Wilder

Start Your Free Trial

The Skin of Our Teeth Themes

(Drama for Students)

Download The Skin of Our Teeth Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Much of the humor in The Skin of Our Teeth derives from Wilder's use of bizarre juxtapositions which place the characters in absurd situations and highlight the ludicrous aspects of seemingly ordinary events. Combining elements of twentieth-century suburban America with events from the historical and mythological past creates an odd world where a middle-class family can have a dinosaur and mammoth for pets, the Antrobuses can celebrate their 5,000th wedding anniversary, and the children can recite poems even though their father has only just invented the alphabet.

American Exceptionalism
By presenting his allegorical parents of the human race as a conventional American middle-class couple, Wilder reinforces Americans' belief in the exceptional nature of their country and its citizens. Mr. Antrobus's virtues of inventiveness, resilience, and diligence are those of the ideal American entrepreneur, and the family's continued ability to start from nothing and achieve greatness is the essence of the American dream. The play suggests the best human characteristics are also the best American qualities.

Illusion vs. Reality
While traditional realistic plays try to create a "real" world on the stage, encouraging viewers to forget that they are watching actors play roles in a fictional drama, Wilder constantly interrupts this sort of theatrical illusion to remind the audience that they are watching a drama. When actors step out of their roles and speak directly to the audience, they highlight the fact that this is a performance taking place on a stage, a fictional world that can be altered and adapted by the ordinary people who are putting it together. Wilder repeatedly reminds the audience of the realities of sets, actors, and scripts, disrupting the conventions of naturalistic theater.

Cycle of History
The Skin of Our Teeth emphasizes the repetitive nature of human history. The Antrobuses have faced disasters in the past, overcome more disasters during the course of the drama, and are ready to engage in further struggles at the performance's end. Wilder emphasizes the circular quality of the characters' lives, each act finds them starting over again. The play concludes with the exact same words and situation with which it began—another reminder that the cycle of history (and human existence) is on-going.

Wilder's play both parodies and idealizes the image of the nuclear family. George and Maggie Antrobus are extreme examples of the masculine provider and the feminine caregiver. His enthusiasm for his inventions and books and her single-minded devotion to her children might be viewed as humorously exaggerated. Yet, their adherence to their stereotypical...

(The entire section is 635 words.)