You can't start a fire without a spark

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"I don't know anything.  Some say that the ice is going slower.  Some say that it's stopped.  The sun's growing cold.  What can I do about that? Nothing we can do but burn everything in the house, and the fenceposts and the barn.  Keep the fire going.  When we have no more fire, we die."

Wilder, page 32

Fire is a means of warmth.  Human beings need heat in order to survive.  But is it only the human being's body that requires heat? What about the mind? What about the inspiration and will to create, build, help, and imagine? Don't those processes require some sort of fire? Passion and the will to live are the fire that keeps mankind going.

Thornton Wilder's character Mr. Antrobus's above quote is a double entendre.  While the human race will die without bodily heat, it will also die if no one takes any mental initiative.  Throughout the play, Antrobus continuously returns to his books for inspiration and new ideas of how to make the world a better place.  This goes to show that mankind's desires nt only lie with the mere idea of physical health, but also with the idea of mental health.  Without the intellectual fire within the mind, man cannot function properly.

Wilder is conveying this idea through Antrobus's determination.  While the quote is directed at bodily survival, Antrobus's actions display a desire for mental action. Thus, Wilder is displaying that his characters within "The Skin of Our Teeth" look to Antrobus for action and guidance: he is the spark that keeps mankind's mental fires going. 

 http://jerz.setonhill.edu/EL267/2009/03/wilder_the_skin_of_our_teeth/

2 Comments

Alicia Campbell said:

Your interpetation really helped me to make some sense of this play. I obviously noticed Antobus' fondness of books, but I wasn't sure what to make of it. But your suggestion makes sense. Antrobus is obsessed with books, and he is also the source of inventions of progress. To add to your interpretation, Mrs. Antrobus also works against her husband. When Antrobus tells his wife to burn everyhing except Shakespeare to keep the children warm, she replies, "he knows I'd burn ten Shakespeares to prevent a child of mine from having one cold in the head" (19). Perhaps she represents the basic instinct to survive, but Antrobus' character is suggesting that mere physical survival, as you suggest, is not enough to keep mankind going, or to prevent mankind from becoming extinct.

Christopher Dufalla said:

This is how I see life: life is a learning experience; when one ceases to learn, one ceases to truly live.

I hadn't thought of the role of Mrs. Antrobus as the opposite, but now that you make that point I can clearly see how she works against Antrobus's desires to further the minds of men and instead merely survive.

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