1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
"The Woman of Andros" was published in 1930 when the Great Depression was taking its toll on American society, just after the stock market had crashed in 1929. The contemporary events occurring during its publica
tion were one of the primary contributing factors to the novel's reception. Although Wilder's popularity after his previous, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" allowed "The Woman of Andros" to initially meet with some popularity
, the novel's faults eventually met with widespread criticism led by Marxist Michael Gold. Gold argued that it is a writer's duty to create literature that deals with contemporary social problems of society and Wilder's third novel, which was set on t
he Greek island of Brynos before the birth of Christ, did not adequately fulfill Gold's requirement. However, the widespread and somewhat rash criticism that Wilder suffered for not dealing with contemporary social problems in "The Woman of Andros" may
have been overly zealous and misrepresentative of the work as a whole.
Wilder's prowess in writing beautiful prose is undeniable. The first paragraph of the novel indicates to the reader that he is about to read beautifully crafted literature - "The earth sighed as it turned in its course; the shadow of night crept gradual
ly along the Mediterranean, and Asia was left in darkness. The great cliff that was one day to be called Gibraltar held for a long time a gleam of red and orange, while across from it the mountains of Atlas showed deep blue pockets in their shining sides
. Triumph had passed from Greece and wisdom from Egypt, but with the coming on of night they seemed to regain their lost honors, and the land that was soon to be called Holy prepared in the dark its wonderful burden." Wilder's flowery language, which G
old suggests reflects Wilder's "snobbery", is deemed by others as aesthetically pleasing. Rex Burbank, however, expresses the sentiments of the majority when he explains that "Wilder's vices generally are his virtues in excess; in "The Woman" the autho
r's skill in fine writing draws undue attention to itself" (Burbank, 57). Especially with Wilder's relatively weak characterizations and lack of dramatic intensity, the reader is often not able to become immersed in the story and to forget Wilder's un
common ability to write beautiful prose.
Although Wilder's writing style is eloquent, its excess becomes apparent in the light of the novel's other deficiencies. The novel did not captivate the reader and at times felt superficial and distant. Both Chrysis and Pamphilus face the agony of los
s and loneliness, yet the reader is neither directed by the narrator or by the author to empathize with the suffering characters. The story seems to be told at a great distance from the small island of Brynos by an outsider rather by the omniscient narra
tor who reveals the thoughts of each character. Upon finishing Wilder's novel, the characters, with the exception of possibly Chrysis, seem to be part of one blur that is obscured by the moral of the tale. Wilder failed to sufficiently develop his char
acters and create plot intensity and instead blatantly stated the philosophical dilemma: that pain and suffering will possibly gain meaning with the prophesized coming of Jesus Christ.
In stating his philosophical theme, Wilder did deal with several timeless issues of humanity, which Gold and other harsh critiques seemed to have overlooked. "The Woman of Andros" considered the issues of pain and isolation in Chrysis and Pamphilus; gene
ration gaps and conflicts between Pamphilus and his traditional father Simo; ill-fated relationships, loss, and triangulated love involving Chrysis, Glycerium, and Pamphilus; and the existence of an omniscient God and the meanings of life through Chrysis.
All of these themes are incorporated into the characterizations and plot, although most are not developed fully. Since, those themes were not adequately shown through the novel's characters, instead, Wilder outrightly states his messages. Wilder's u
ndeveloped themes concerning humanity leave a deficiency in his writing and led to his use of didacticism to inform the reader of his philosophical tenets. The moralizing and detached aspect of the final passages of "The Woman of Andros" leaves the reade
r with a sour taste. The book concludes with the simplification of Wilder's purpose and the prophesizing of the coming of Jesus Christ: "On the sea the helmsman suffered the downpour, and on the high pastures the shepherd turned and drew his cloak clos
er about him. In the hills the long-dried stream-beds began to fill again and the noise of water falling from level to level, warring with the stones in the way, filled the gorges. But behind the thick beds of clouds the moon soared radiantly bright, sh
ining upon Italy and its smoking mountains. And in the East the stars shone tranquilly down upon the land that was soon to be called Holy and that even then was preparing its precious burden." This final paragraph hastily draws different geographies tog
ether attempting to emphasize the commonness of human experience and ends pointing to the answer of the coming of Christ. The way Christ is thrown into this final passage after not holding a strong place through the majority of the story, makes Wilder's
method of relaying his purpose feel heavy-handed and hard to swallow.
In retrospect many critics have admitted to more of the positive aspects of Wilder's third novel, although it is still deemed one of his greatest weaknesses; but the heavy-handed manner in which Wilder wrote "The Woman of Andros" would have been especial
ly difficult to appreciate amidst the suffering of the Great Depression. After Wall Street collapsed in 1929 and the unemployment lines lengthened by the day, American morale was not lifting with Wilder's assertion that pain and suffering should be expl
ainable with the coming of Christ. For those who were starving and unemployed in 1930, Christ had already come but this did not seem to be providing any answer to improve the hunger and social turmoil. It appeared to some that Wilder was indifferent or
unable to cope with the American problems. In Michael Gold's criticism "Wilder: Prophet of the genteel Christ", Gold asks, "Is Mr. Wilder a Swede or a Greek, or is he an American? No stranger would know from the books he has written." Thornton Wilder
is not the only author who has ignored contemporary problems and written a somewhat escapist novel during a time of national turmoil. But what is it that separated Wilder from other escapist writers causing Wilder to seemingly bear the grunt of Marxist a
nd generally socialist criticism?
Eleanor H. Porter's novel "Pollyanna" was published in 1913 in the dark times of the first World War. "Pollyanna" did not expound social reform nor offer profundities concerning the worldwide calamity, yet Porter's novel was warmly greeted with rave re
views and a large public following. Pollyanna created a large-scale reaction that is quite uncommon from even best selling novels. The character of Pollyanna embodied the themes of hope and happiness and, through her "glad clubs", she attempted to sprea
d her happiness and thankfulness to the other members of her community. Pollyanna's message of optimism and cheerfulness was embraced by many individuals in American society who formed their own "glad clubs." Porter's message in her novel seemed to be
that happiness and fulfillment could be found in small aspects of life. "Pollyanna" was definitely not written in the eloquent manner that characterized Wilder's beautiful prose; however, "Pollyanna" surpassed "The Woman of Andros" in its character dev
elopment. It may have been the lovable character of Pollyanna that saved the novel from criticism for its simplicity and slightly naive optimism in the dark times at the onset of World War I. Furthermore, Porter did not entirely escape away from America
n society as Wilder did by reaching back to the times of ancient Greece. "Pollyanna" is set in a small American town that emanated American nationalism and the happiness in the novel allowed the reader to relish a feeling of American exceptionalism. Bot
h "Pollyanna" and "The Woman of Andros" have several weaknesses and were published during hard times when escapist novels ignoring the current social problems could possibly meet with heated criticism. "The Woman of Andros", however, felt the heat of cri
ticism more intently because of its areas of weakness. Criticism, like that of Michael Gold's, was not merely fueled by Wilder's failure to address current, American social conditions. "The Woman of Andros" does not have a lovable character such as Po
llyanna and is not set in a patriotic setting that stirs the reader's sense of nationalism; these weaknesses in Wilder's novel provide no shelter from criticism as they do in "Pollyanna".
After discussing the faults of Wilder's novel - the absence of dramatic intensity, its distance from contemporary social problems, weak characterizations, and the way in which Wilder integrated his Christian themes - it is important to reiterate the stre
ngths of "The Woman of Andros." First and most noticeably, is the uncommon skill Wilder possesses in writing breathtaking prose. Both Harlan Hatcher and R. P. Blackman judicially praise "The Woman of Andros" for containing certain beautiful and poetical
phrases that embody distinguished art. One of the many examples of the novel's esteemed prose is seen in the description of a scene at one of Chrysis's dinner parties. One of Chrysis's guests reprimands her for her profession as a courtesan and dema
nds that she find a more suitable and traditional lifestyle. Chrysis merely "sat gazing at his flashing eyes and admiring his earnestness. There was a certain luxury in having an external mortification added to an inner despair. She was already trouble
d by her recent discomfiture of Niceratus and now chose to be magnanimous. She arose and approached the young fanatic; taking his hand she smiled at him with grave affection, saying to the company: 'It is true that of all forms of genius, goodness has t
he longest awkward age'" (55).
Another accomplishment in this novel was Wilder's ability to transform Terence's ancient play into modern literature. David Castronovo stated that "The Woman of Andros" is "a part of the literature of the 1920s because of its obsessive concern with the
isolated self" (53). Wilder did make several changes in Terence's comedy, including a complete change in the play's happy ending, which made this novel a modern piece.
Wilder's exploration of the private self was also a strength. This exploration was especially interesting while following the sentiments of Chrysis as she searched for meaning to her life. David Castronovo asserted that "the redeeming complexity in her
nature - and, indeed, in the book itself - is that the dark side of human affairs is no more real than the light: the intertwining of pain and pleasure, tragic degeneration and joyous experience, makes life into an ungraspable, endlessly ironic series of
revelations" (54). The exploration of the pain, suffering, and burden of coping with the pursuit of the meaning to existence, seen in Pamphilus and especially Chrysis, is one of the redeeming features of Wilder's novel.
"The Woman of Andros" is undeniably one of Wilder's weaker endeavors. Nonetheless, the novel does have important merits that have been overlooked by superficial readings and rash criticisms. Michael Gold's precept that authors should address contempor
ary social problems is senseless and if adhered to would drastically diminish the scope and quality of literature. "The Woman of Andros" can be enjoyed for its accomplishments - among these are the exploration of the private self and Wilder's beautiful
prose - even though the novel exhibits escapist tendencies.
Materials mentioned above:
Blackman, R. P. "Thornton Wilder" The Hound and Horn vol. 111 July 1930" p. 586-89.
Burbank, Rex. Thornton Wilder Twayne, 1961.
Castronovo, David. "Thornton Wilder". Ungar. New York: 1986.
Gold, M. "Wilder: Prophet of the genteel Christ." The New Republic Oct, 22 1930 & The Nation Nov 26, 1930.
Hatcher, Harlan. "Poetic versus hard-boiled realism." Creating the Modern American Novel. Farron & Rinehart, 1935: p. 247-261.