Thornton Wilder - "The Skin of our Teeth". The female characters of the play

Term Paper, 2003

9 Pages, Grade: 2 (B)



1. Introduction

2. The Play
2.1 Sabina
2.2 Mrs Antrobus
2.3 Gladys Antrobus
2.4 Fortune Teller

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

When Wilder’s “The Skin of our Teeth” first came to the stage in 1942, the audience had difficulty understanding the play. Many of them left the theatre before the 3rd Act had started. The audience hadn’t shared the same background as Wilder and one could say that they weren’t ready for his play yet. However, most of the critics favoured the new play and Wilder received his third Pulitzer Prize for it.

“The Skin of our Teeth” is strongly influenced by Wilder’s experience of two World Wars and his visit of English cities, which had been destroyed by German bombs, in 1941, where he was astonished by the “almost amused bewilderment”[1] the British showed whilst facing the disasters of war.[2]

During the late 1930s Wilder studied the works of James Joyce and admits that “The Skin of our Teeth” is “deeply indebted to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake”[3], whilst critics called it “an American re-creation, thinly disguised”[4] with reference to the Joycean novel. He borrowed ideas from many other authors like André Obey.

A second source of inspiration, every bit as important to “The Skin of our Teeth” as the highbrow “Finnegan’s Wake”, was the lowbrow, popular entertainment of the day: the burlesque. Especially the work of the American comedians Olsen and Johnson shows a certain affinity to Wilder’s play.

Wilder did not see himself as an innovator, but a man who tried to keep the craft of writing alive.

“I am not an innovator, but a rediscoverer of forgotten goods and I hope a remover of obtrusive bric á brac”[5]

2. The Play

Along with what is probably Wilder’s most famous play, “Our Town”, “The Skin of our Teeth” deals with the continuing battle of mankind against the eternal forces that threaten humanity. It is an allegory of the human race and its capacity to survive. The play focuses on the Antrobuses, a typical American family who represent mankind itself. They can even be likened to the biblical first family – George Antrobus (Adam), the inventor of the wheel, his wife Maggie (Eve) and their two children, Henry (Cain), and Gladys.

During the three acts of the play the Antrobuses have to face three catastrophes: The Ice Age, flood and world war, and they always survive by the skin of their teeth.

Without doubt “The Skin of our Teeth” is one of Wilder’s most complex plays and one could easily analyse it in many ways.

However, I want to focus on the female characters of the play, their attitude and their relationship amongst themselves. I will deal with them in their order of appearance within the play: Sabina, Mrs Antrobus, Gladys, and the Fortune Teller.

2.1 Sabina

In Act I “Lily Sabina” – “straw-blonde, over- rouged”[6] – is introduced as the faint-hearted house maid of the Antrobus family and, whilst she is dusting the room, she lets “the audience in on the manners and means of their employers”[7].

As her name suggests she was abducted home like the Sabines in Roman mythology, but she is also Lilith, Adam’s first demonic wife. She is evil, but in a less serious fashion than Henry/Cain, because her sins are generally domestic and venial ones.

Both feisty and witty, she nevertheless personifies all the stereotypical faults of her kind: she is vain, petulant, materialistic and immoral. Moreover, she is self-righteous

and lacks both conviction and courage in the face of adversity. The pleasures that she lives


[1] Erwin Häberle, Das szenische Werk Thornton Wilders (Heidelberg 1967) pp. 91

[2] ibid. pp. 91-107

[3] Thornton Wilder, Our Town and Other Plays (1962) p.14

[4] Rex Burbank, Thornton Wilder (Boston 1961), p.101

[5] Thorton Wilder, Our Town and Other Plays (1962), p.14

[6] Thornton Wilder, Our Town and Other Plays (1962), p.99

[7] Malcolm Goldstein, The Art of Thornton Wilder (Lincoln 1965), p.122

Excerpt out of 9 pages


Thornton Wilder - "The Skin of our Teeth". The female characters of the play
University of Bamberg  (Centre for British Studies)
2 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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465 KB
Thornton, Wilder, Skin, Teeth
Quote paper
Isabel Zosig (Author), 2003, Thornton Wilder - "The Skin of our Teeth". The female characters of the play, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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