Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Theatre & Dance

First Advisor

Oliver Gerland

Second Advisor

Beth Osnes

Third Advisor

Cecilia Pang

Fourth Advisor

Omaar Hena

Fifth Advisor

Brook Davis


Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) was one of the most celebrated U.S. authors of the 20th century. As a dramatist, he wrote one of the most frequently produced plays in American dramatic history, Our Town. Given his fame, it is surprising that very little has been written about Wilder’s dramatic works from a political perspective. My dissertation aims to address this oversight by unearthing a family-based social and political ethic in his dramatic works. Through close study of his plays, interviews, letters, influences, and other writings, I have found that he promotes a democratic ethic through his drama. He creates the utopia that he longed to see in our global political climate and imagines what the world would look like if we truly ascribed to democratic ideals. He promotes a dialogue that engages differing viewpoints without discounting someone else's world view. He gives a road map towards an idyllic democracy through his theatre and through the theatrical event. In the divisive political reality that we live in today, it may be more important than ever to consider voices like Thornton Wilder. He lived in a time that was arguably the most volatile global climate we have ever known, yet he remained steadfast in his belief that humanity will continue to adapt, grow, and change for the better. He believed in listening to one another. He believed that we should challenge the assumptions of the things we think we know and the ways we treat others. Wilder felt his place was to write, create and promote democratic ideals through his writing and, in doing so, provides a blueprint for others to follow.