Quoting The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder

The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder

The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder

I have just finished this American epic and I am in awe of Wilder’s writing. I am going to record passages from this novel that have resonated with me.

  • Gossip had solidified into conviction as prejudice solidifies into self-evident truth. (p. 5)
  • Every man, woman, and child believed that he or she lived in the best town in the best state in the best country in the world. (p. 7)
  • Nothing is more interesting than the inquiry as to how creativity operates in anyone, in everyone: mind, propelled by passion, imposing itself, building and unbuilding; mind–the latest-appearing manifestation of life–expressing itself in statesman and criminal, in poet and banker, in street cleaner and housewife, in father and mother–establishing order or spreading havoc; mind–condensing energy in groups and nations, rising to an incandescence and then ebbing away exhausted; mind–enslaving and massacring or diffusing justice and beauty:                                     Pallas Athene’s Athens, like a lighthouse on a hill, sending forth beams that still illuminate men in council;                                                 Palestine, for a thousand years, like a geyser in the sand, producing genius after genius, and soon there will be no one on earth who has not been affected by them.                                                                              Is there more and more of it, or less and less?                                          Is the brain neutral between destruction and beneficence?                  Is it possible that there will someday be a “spiritualization” of the human soul?                                                                                                       It is absurd to compare our children of the Kangaheela Valley to the august examples of good and evil action I have referred to above (already in the middle of this century they are largely forgotten), but:                                                                                                                       They are near,                                                                                                   They are accessible to our indiscreet observation. (pp. 10-11)
  • Life! Why life? What for? To what end? (p. 17)
  • What is education, George? It is the bridge man crosses from the self-enclosed, self-favoring life into a consciousness of the entire community of mankind. (p. 18)
  • The Christian religion, as delivered in Coaltown, established a bracing relation between God’s favor and money. Penury was not only a social misfortune; it was a visible sign of a fall from grace. God had promised that the just would never suffer want. The indigent were in an unhappy relation to both the earthly and heavenly orders. (p. 45)
  • It is doubtful whether hope–or any of the other manifestations of creativity–can sustain itself without an impulse injected by love. So absurd and indefensible is hope. Sophia’s was nourished by love of her mother and sisters, but above all by love of those two distant outcasts, her father and her brother. (p. 57)
  • Some people go forward and some go back. (p. 100)
  • Faith is an ever-widening pool of clarity, fed from springs beyond the margin of consciousness. We all know more than we know we know. (p. 124)
  • When God loves a creature He wants the creature to know the highest happiness and the deepest misery–then he can die. He wants him to know all that being alive can bring. That is His best gift. (p. 135)
  • Red. Red. Look at the red. Men, women, and children love you because of the blue of your eyes. But there is a better love than that. Blue is the color of faith. But red is love–every kind of love. Anybody can see that you have faith. So has Fidel! Faith is not enough. Maybe, if you are lucky, you will be born into love. (p. 136)
  • Suffering is like money, Mr. Tolland. It circulates from hand to hand. We pass on what we take in. (p. 141)
  • It is the diversity of life that renders thinking difficult. Many a beginning philosopher has been on the point of grasping the problem of suffering, but what sage can cope with that of happiness? (pp. 145-146)
  • The root of avarice is the fear of what circumstances may bring. (p. 148)
  • In this history there has been some discussion of hope and faith. It is too early to treat of love. The last appearing of the graces is still emerging from the primal ooze. Its numerous aspects are confusingly intermingled–cruelty with mercy, creativity with havoc. It may be that after many thousands of years we may see it “clarify”–as it is said of turbid wine. (pp. 153-154)
  • I think we’re all bad judges of what goes on in other people’s minds about God, Mr. Smith. It’s a bad thing to force a God on a man who doesn’t want one. It’s worse to stand in the way of a man who wants one badly. I know them! I live there! (p. 171)
  • Only those who have known great joy can know our grief. (p. 186)
  • Every death is a right death. We did not choose the day of our birth; we may not choose the day of leavetaking. They are chosen. (p. 189)
  • Roger was overwhelmed by the crowds of Chicago. He was oppressed by the multiplicity of human beings. On the way to work he would stop and gaze at the throngs on LaSalle Street. (During his first days he thought he was seeing the same persons walking back and forth.) All these men and women had souls, had “selves.” All were as important to themselves as he was to himself. In seventy years everyone he was looking at–and himself–would be dead, except a few old freaks. There’d be a whole new million hurrying and worrying and laughing and talking. “Get out of my way. I don’t know you. I’m busy living.” … In the street people put on a face so that strangers won’t read their souls. A crowd is a sterner judge than a relative or a friend. The crowd is God. LaSalle Street is like hell–your’e being judged all the time..Suicide very logical.” (p. 213)
  • Never ask a man what he believes. Watch what he uses. ‘Believe’ is a dead word and brings death with it. (p. 220)
  • There is no true education save in answer to urgent questioning. (p. 222)
  • Man is cruel to man and even those who are kind to those nearest them are inhuman to others. It’s not kindness that’s important but justice. Kindness is the stammering apology of the unjust. The whole world’s wrong, he saw. There’s something wrong at the heart of the world and he would track it down. (p. 224)
  • Where there’s injustice, there’s fear. Where there’s fear, there’s cowardice. But the chain begins farther back: where there’s money, there’s injustice. (p. 237)
  • Those who ask no questions receive the fullest answers (p. 261)
  • Mr. Frazier, works of art are the only satisfactory products of civilization. History, in itself, has nothing to show. History is the record of man’s repeated failures to extricate himself from his incorrigible nature. Those who see progress in it are as deluded as those who see a gradual degeneration. A few steps forward, a few steps back. Human nature is like the ocean, unchanging, unchangeable. Today’s calm, tomorrow’s tempest–but it’s the same ocean. Man is as he is, as he was, as he always will be. (p. 264)
  • One day, months ago, the Maestro made his youngest daughter–Adriana–leave the table. She’d merely said that she adored her new shoes; she thought they were divine. He said those were religious words and that they had nothing to do with human beings either. He warned me to beware of husbands and wives who adored one another. Such persons haven’t grown up, he said. No human being is adorable. The early Hebrews were quite right to condemn idolatry. Women who adore their husbands throw a thousand little ropes around them. They rob them of their freedom. They lull them to sleep. It’s wonderful to own a god, to put him in you pocket. (p. 272)
  • As I shall have occasion to say when we consider the early years of Eustacia Lansing: all young people secrete idealism as continuously as the Bombyx mori secretes silk. It is as necessary to them as food that life be filled with wonder–that they contemplate heroes. They must admire. The boy in the reformatory (his third conviction for burglary with assault) secretes idealism as a Bombyx mori secretes silk. The girl of fifteen, brutalized into prostitution, secretes idealism–for a while–as a Bombyx mori secretes silk. Life to newcomers presents itself as a brightly lighted stage where they will be called upon to play roles exhibiting courage, fair dealing, magnanimity, wisdom, and helpfulness. Hoping and trembling a little, they feel that they are almost ready for these great demands upon them. (p. 298)
  • There are few things so conducive to despair as seeing the recurrence of weaknesses in those close to you…(p. 322)
  • Slowly she had learned that beautiful things are not for our possession but for our contemplation. (p. 338)
  • The most painful aspect of this phase was the absence of any faint intimation from the realm of the spirit… (p. 365)
  • We are as Providence made us (p. 381)
  • For every person who has enough to eat there are ten persons starving (maybe a hundred). For every girl and lady who goes down the street and their friends say pretty things to them, there’s a dozen girls and women who’ve had no chance. For every good hour that a family has in a home evenings, somebody is paying. Somebody they don’t even know. I don’t mean merely there are a lot of poor people in the world. It’s deeper than that. Look at all the sick and crippled and ugly and damned. It’s the way God made the world. He can’t stop it now or change it. Some people are damned before they are born. You won’t like that, but I know. God doesn’t hate the damned. He needs them. They pay for the rest. Paryas hold up the floors of homes. Enough said. (p. 384)
  • The world is a thousand times more beautiful and mighty than most people can see. (p. 386)
  • But there is only one history. It began with the creation of man and will come to an end when the last human consciousness is extinguished. All other beginnings and endings are arbitrary conventions–makeshift parading as self-sufficient entireties, diffusing petty comfort of petty despair. The cumbrous shears of the historian cut out a few figures and a brief passage of time from that enormous tapestry. Above and below the laceration, to the right and to the left of it, the severed threads protest against the injustice, against the imposture.                                                                                     It is only in appearance that time is a river. It is rather a vast landscape and it is the eye of the beholder that moves.                           Look about you in all directions–rise higher, rise higher–and see hills beyond hills, plains and rivers. (p. 395)
  • History is one tapestry. No eye can venture to compass a hand’s breadth of it. (p. 396)
  • The first months of our life we are wrapped in white, we are soothed and put to sleep in white. Later, we are told that heaven–which is the memory of infancy–is white. We are lifted and carried about; we float. That is why we are told that angels fly. The first snow reminds us of the only times in our lives when we were without fear. A cemetery under rain is the saddest sight in the world, because the rain reminds of tears; but a cemetery under snow is inviting. We remember that world. In winter the dead are encradled. (p. 400)
  • Mr. Frazier, in every lively healthy family there is one who must pay. (p. 407)
  • A feeling of something portentous and strange in human experience had been gathering within him. He felt as though he had walked all of his life in ignorance of abysses and wonders, of ambushes, of eyes watching him, of writing on clouds. It came to him that surely life is vaster, deeper, and more perilous than we think it is. (p. 427)
  • “You com from such a house. You are marked. The mark is on your forehead. There are billions of births. At one birth out of a vast number a Messiah is born. It has been a mistake of the Jews and Christians to believe that there is only one Messiah. Every man and woman is Messiah-bearing, but some are closer on the tree to a Messiah than others. Have you ever seen the ocean?…”                     “It is said that on the ocean every ninth wave is larger than the others. I do not know if that is true. So on the sea of human lives one wave in many hundreds of thousands rises, gathers together the strength–the power–of many souls to bear a Messiah. At such times the earth groans; its hour approaches. For centuries a house prepares the birth. Look at this picture. Christ descended by more than thirty generations from King David. Think of them–the men and women, the grandfathers and grandmothers of Christ. I have heard a learned preacher say that it is probable that the mother of Christ could not read or write, nor her mother before her. But to them it had been said: ‘Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”                                                                                                He put his finger on the page and lowered his voice. “There are some names here of whom the Bible tells us discreditable things. Is that not strange? You and I would say in our ignorance that the men and women who were so near to bearing a Messiah would be pure and without fault, but no! God builds in His own way. He can use the stone that the builders rejected. There is an old saying, ‘God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.’ Have you heard it?”…                                                                                                 “The sign of God’s way is that it is strange. God is strange. There is nothing more childish than to think of God as a man.” He waved his hand towards Coaltown–“As they do. His ways to our eyes are often cruel and laughable.” He turned back a page in the Bible. “Here is the tree of Christ’s descent form Adam to Jesse. When Sarah–here!–was told that she would bear a son she laughed. She was an old woman. She bore Isaac–which means ‘Laughter.’ The Bible is the story of a Messiah-bearing family, but it is only one Bible. There are many such families whose Bibles have not been written.”…                                                                                        “Can it be that your family has been marked? Can it be that your descendants may bring forth a Messiah, tomorrow or in a hundred years? That something is preparing? Your father fired a rifle; a man near him fell dead, but your father did not kill the man. That is strange. Your father did not lift a finger to save himself, but he was saved. That is strange. Your father had no friends, he says; but friends saved him. Your mother never left her house; she had no money; she was dazed. But a child who had never held a dollar in her hand sustained a house. Is that not strange? A great grandmother has reached out of her grave and spoken to you. Your father is right in this letter: there is no happiness equal to that of being aware that one has part in a design. ” Again he pointed to Coaltown: “They walk in despair. If we were to describe what Hell is like it would be the place in which there is no hope or possibility of change: birth, feeding, excreting, propagation, and death–all of some mighty wheel of repetition. There is a fly that lives and lays its eggs and dies–all in one day–and is gone forever.” (pp. 429-431)
  • There is much talk of design in the arras. Some are certain they see it. Some see what they have been told to see. Some remember that they saw it once but have lost it. Some are strengthened by seeing a pattern wherein the oppressed and exploited of the earth are gradually emerging from their bondage. Some find strength in the conviction that there is nothing to see.                                                        Some (p. 435)

2 thoughts on “Quoting The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder

  1. This quotation sounds a lot like Calvin’s odious doctrine of double predestination:

    Look at all the sick and crippled and ugly and damned. It’s the way God made the world. He can’t stop it now or change it. Some people are damned before they are born. You won’t like that, but I know. God doesn’t hate the damned. He needs them. They pay for the rest. Paryas hold up the floors of homes. Enough said. (p. 384)


  2. I’m not very acquainted yet with all of Calvin’s views–however, I do know what double predestination is, on a surface level: that God chose to save ‘the elect’ and chose to damn the rest.

    I see what you mean. However, the sentence “He can’t stop it now or change it” shows that it isn’t what Calvin was speaking of. God couldn’t stop or change the damned from being damned, yet he needs them? So, I do see where you are coming from and how this quote is tinged with Calvinism, it is quite the opposite, in a sense. The denial of God’s Providence is deeply against what Calvin believed.

    This quote did perplex me when I read it too.


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