The last of Thornton Wilder's novels, Theophilus North follows the story of a young man who, bored with his current life as a teacher, sets out for a summer of adventure. Narrated by the elderly North from a distance of fifty years Theophilus North is a fascinating commentary on youth and education from the vantage point of age.
Long considered the most whimsical of Wilder's novels, one critic described Theophilus North as "nostalgic fantasy" stating, "Perhaps adults need fairytales too." This novel is part autobiographical and part the imagined adventure of his twin brother who died at birth. Why would an author use fiction to create an autobiography? Is it possible that like Theophilus, Wilder believes "It's so boring to tell the truth to people who'd rather hear the other thing?"
Many other authors have crafted similar pseudo autobiographies, shrouded in mystery and mixed with imaginative fiction. In order to better understand Wilder's choices in mixing his own life with the imagined world of Theophilus, students should also take a look at other semi-autobiographical works like The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.
How do both Wilder and Plath use the imagined worlds of their characters to examine tragedies in their own? How do Hemingway and Wilder explore their own experience in World War I through their characters? How do both Bradbury and Wilder paint nostalgic pictures of their pasts through the use of fiction? What similarities can be drawn between Theophilus North and Stephen Dedalus? Joyce wrote A Portrait of the Artist at the beginning of his career, while Wilder wrote Theophilus at the end of his, in what ways do these timelines impact the messages and themes? In what ways are all these authors able to comment on the situations and people in their life by distancing themselves through fiction?