Wednesday, December 23, 2009

* "People were meant to go through life two by two."

So, what are we going to do about the problem of Thornton Wilder's sexuality?


It's his business, not ours. And besides, he's dead.

He can't comment and nothing anyone else says can be verified.

The one thing we can say for sure is that he once asked the actress Ruth Gordon to marry him. At least that's what she said in her eulogy for Thornton Wilder at Yale's Battell Chapel in 1976. She had been spurned by a suitor, she revealed, and Wilder felt so bad for her that he asked her to marry him instead. She said, "Thornton thought somebody ought to marry me," if I recall the text correctly.

Thornton Wilder and his sister Isabel never married. They were lifelong companions and housemates. He died at 78 in 1975; she at 95 in 1995. In fact, one Yale Ph.D. in literature, John D. Ogden, told me that "Not since Dorothy and William Wordsworth has there been a brother /sister literary team like Isabel and Thornton Wilder."

For a man who never went through a wedding ceremony, he choreographed a wedding which may have been staged a million times over the last 71 years, if you count high school performances of Our Town. And since Thornton Wilder often took the Stagemanager part himself (and therefore the minister's part) he has performed hundreds, maybe thousands, of wedding ceremonies too.

I am interested in Wilder's technique of 'elevating to the universal' as I call it, in Our Town.

Instead of having Mrs. Gibbs consent to George and Emily's marriage by saying, Yes . . . people are meant to go through life as husband and wife" Wilder has her say "Yes . . . people are meant to go through life two by two" (Act II) and later instead of having the minister aver the sanctity of the heterosexual couplet he has him echo Mrs. Gibbs again after establishing his credentials (and doubts):

"In this wedding I play the minister. That gives me the right to say a few more things about it. Y'see, some churches say that marriage is a sacrament . I don't quite know what that means but I can guess [heretical uncertainty for sure]. Like Mrs. Gibbs said a few minutes ago: People were made to live two by two." (Act II)

In other words, Wilder elevates marriage from the realm of gender identity (male/female; husband/wife) to the universal realm of "couples".

It could be ANY couples.

It is decidedly ambiguous. And my guess is that ambiguity is for a reason----and that reason AIN'T to validate gay marriage, a word and a concept unthought of in 1938 when Wilder wrote Our Town.

Let us for a moment violate our own opening declaration that Wilder's sexuality is none of our business, and assume that Gilbert Harrison is correct in his biography The Enthusiaist: A Life of Thornton Wilder that Wilder was homosexual but that his liaisons were brief and uncomfortable. Let us even assume further that as the child of strict 19th century parents and the brother of a Harvard theologian, Wilder felt it impossible to to discuss 'the love that dare not speak its name.' And let us also assume that Wilder's answer to his sister, Isabel, about her doubts about never having married, is true for himself: "It is good enough to be human."

Now, if we also assume regrettably the fashionable belief that Wilder was a secret or repressed homosexual, his elevation of marriage from a male/female realtionship to a "two by two" relationship becomes not only a subversive, egalitarian validation of all couplehood (including his own lifelong friendship and creative literary partnership with his sister) but a way for a man whose romantic interests might be those that "dare not" be spoken, to fully participate in the human drama.

Thus Wilder's theatrical needs and his human needs might both be satisfied by this elevation to the universal.

This interpretation will not satisfy the radical politically correct idealogues of our time who want to "out" the closet gay celebrities, including (they contend) Thornton Wilder.

Ironically, in their blind intolerance of Wilder's desire (need?) for the privacy of his own thoughts, the idealogues have overlooked the tremendous opportunity his line "two by two" has given them. In this genderless axiom is nothing less than a validation of all marriage, regardless of gender affinities.

Pity the radicals among the PC's.

They can't see their opportunity for their opportunism.

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