By refuting his father’s Calvinism, the belief that we are entirely at the mercy of God, who doles out justice by condemning all people for their sins, but granting mercy to the most virtuous, Wilder ventures into the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, where nature alone governs human action, which inevitably leads to chaos, because human beings who lack some shared authority are almost certain to fall into dangerous and deadly conflict. The only rational choice is to abide by a strict code of ethics that is logically assembled by society.
From the beginning, the godlike stage manager, portrayed in this production by five different actors, is the omnipresent director of action and interpretation, reliving the day-to-day of small town life many years previous, all along acknowledging that it is a play that we are witnessing, a copy of which will be included in a time capsule to be put in the cornerstone of the new bank being built, “so the people a thousand years from now’ll know a few simple facts about us … in our growing up and in our marrying, and in our living and in our dying.”
From the daily chores, to church proceedings to wedding day rituals to the game of baseball, we witness the code that everyone abides by in order to fasten the ties that bind, even to outcomes that were surely not envisioned.
Some people marry by the mere effervescence of soda pop while others fight and die for their country, never knowing exactly why.
By traversing the razor’s edge between the religious determinism of Calvin and the agnostic accident of Hobbes, Wilder delivers a poignant and insightful take on the human condition. In his words, “Do any human beings realize life while they live it — every, every minute?” he answers, “No — saints and poets maybe — they do some.”
In the end, we are reminded of our supreme lack of understanding, but that life continues anyway, more eternal than the town, the country, the earth and the stars.
In our essentially meaningless spark of being, it is enough to craft a small notion of comfort and love, to which there is no alternative, a fact that saints and poets recognize and perhaps deliver to us in various forms like a community play.
Willie Kiernan is a past editor of the Cazenovia Republican and a contributing columnist at Eagle Newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.