NEA Big Read
The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Our Town

The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Our Town

by Thornton Wilder

It seems to me that my books are about: what is the worst thing that the world can do to you, and what are the last resources one has to oppose it.

Thornton Wilder in the role of George Antrobus in The Skin of Our Teeth (Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, or a bookstore.

  1. Devote a day to the cultural world of The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Display illustrations of the styles of dress and architecture of Lima at the beginning of the eighteenth century; play recordings of music by giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Tomas Luis de Victoria (aka da Vittoria), and other composers mentioned in the novel; and give readings of selections from playwrights such as Lope de Vega and Pedro Calderón de la Barca in both the original Spanish and an accompanying English translation.
  2. Collaborate with the visual arts teacher to create a portrait gallery by having students draw or paint their conceptions of the characters in The Bridge of San Luis Rey—Brother Juniper, the Marquesa, the Abbess, Pepita, Manuel and Esteban, Captain Alvarado, the Viceroy, the Archbishop, Uncle Pio, Camila Perichole, and Doña Clara. Display different renderings of the same character side by side to show the range of the students’ conceptions of the characters.
  3. Show one of the film adaptations of The Bridge of San Luis Rey. After viewing it, discuss the ways it is faithful to the novel and, especially, the ways it departs from it. Is it a successful film? Why or why not? Can a successful film be made from this book?
  4. Work with a theater teaching-artist to stage an in-class production of one or more of the one-act plays—The Long Christmas Dinner (1931), Pullman Car Hiawatha (1931), and The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden (1931)—in which Wilder experimented with some of the themes and techniques that would reach their full fruition in Our Town. (You can find teaching-artists through your state arts council.)
  5. Have the students create a photo gallery of rural New England a century ago, with both exterior and interior images. Include people, activities, and scenes (illustrating both buildings and landscapes through all the seasons of the year). Display the gallery in the classroom or school library.
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