The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden

by Thornton Wilder

Plot summary

Almost the entire play takes place during an automobile journey from Newark to Camden, New Jersey by a family on their way to visit a married daughter, who has recently lost a baby in childbirth. Very little happens, but the father, mother, and children reminisce, joke, and sight-see and somehow, in classic Thornton Wilder fashion, capture something of the universal joy and sadness of life as they motor along.

Further Understanding

A comedy
3 men, 3 women

A father, mother and two of their three surviving children drive from Newark, New Jersey to Camden to visit their married daughter, who has recently lost her baby in childbirth. Their journey is punctuated by talk, laughter, memories (some mundane, some happy, some painful), and appreciation of the Now – ham and eggs, flowers, family, sunsets and the joy of being alive. In this family drama, nothing much happens-and yet everything important happens. As Ma Kirby says, “There’s nothin’ like bein’ liked by your family.””

The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden requires no scenery-just a curtain back-drop, a cyclorama, or an empty stage. It was first produced November 25, 1931, at the Yale University theater in New Haven, Connecticut, by the Yale Dramatic Association and the Vassar College Philalethis, with The Long Christmas Dinner, Love and How to Cure It, and Such Things Only Happen in Books.

“It should constantly be borne in mind that the purpose of this play is the portrayal of the character of Ma Kirby, the author at one time having even considered entitling the play ‘The Portrait of a Lady.’ Accordingly, the director should constantly keep in mind that Ma Kirby’s humor, strength and humanity constitute the unifying element throughout. This aspect should always rise above the merely humorous characteristic details of the play.”

-Thornton Wilder, “Notes for the Producer,” 1931

“My earlier one-act plays, before Our Town, were free of scenery too and things went back and forth in time. . . In my plays I attempted to raise ordinary daily conversation between ordinary people to the level of the universal human experience."

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