Our Town Summary

Our Town by Thornton Wilder

     This play by Thornton Wilder represents the daily lives of people in America from 1901 to 1913. The first act describes their daily lives, the second act focuses on love and marriage, and the third act discusses death. This play is unconventional in its use of minimal sets and complete lack of props. Performers must pantomime many objects throughout the show. The Stage Manager, who is the narrator of the play, breaks several rules of theater. First, he talks directly to the audience and acknowledges that he is in a play. Second, he occasionally leaves his role as narrator to take on the parts of several characters in the play. Third, he knows what will happen in the future, and sometimes comments on events that will happen to characters years later.

     The town they describe is Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. It is a small town, roughly 2600 people, who mostly farm. The play centers on two families: the Webb family and the Gibbs family, who live next door to one another. Both couples have children the same ages. In Act one George and Emily are sixteen while their younger siblings, Rebecca and Wally respectively, are eleven. The first act shows various townspeople doing their jobs, such as Howie Newsome delivering the milk and Joe Crowell delivering newspapers. Mr. Gibbs is a doctor and Mr. Webb is editor of the local newspaper, the Sentinel. This act shows the children preparing for school, the mothers stringing beans while discussing townspeople and their dreams for the future. Emily and George, whose bedroom windows are across from one another, converse about Emily giving George hints on his math homework if he is struggling. Later, the women go to choir practice, and George's father has a talk with him about doing his chores and raising his allowance. Mrs. Gibbs tries to convince her husband that they should take a vacation to someplace interesting, such as France, but he doesn't want to go.

     The Stage Manager reveals that in the cornerstone of the new bank they are planning to put some documents that they hope will survive for hundreds of years. They plan to include a copy of the Sentinel, the Bible, Shakespeare's plays, the Constitution, and a copy of this play. The Stage Manager says this play serves as the best example of what ordinary people did in their everyday lives.

     Act two focuses on George and Emily who three years later are getting married to one another. The two families are preparing for the festivities, and the mothers in particular are worried about sending their children off into adulthood. The Stage Manager pauses from the wedding day to look back at the day when George and Emily first fell in love. They walk home from school together, and George offers to buy Emily an ice cream soda. They discuss how he wants to be a farmer and had planned to go to agricultural college, but as he realizes that Emily feels the same way about him that he does about her, he decides that it might be best for him to just stay and take over the farm that his Uncle Luke is willing to give him instead of going off to college. Emily is pleased with this decision. The scene then jumps back to moments before the ceremony as both Emily and George panic about the huge decision they are making. Their parents calm them down and the act ends with the Stage Manager acting as the minister and marrying them.

     Act three takes place in the cemetery where the dead people sit on chairs by their graves and watch the living. Nine years have passed since the wedding, and Emily has died giving birth to her second child. First, Emily's cousin Sam Craig shows up and speaks to the undertaker, Joe Stoddard, about all the people who have died since he moved away twelve years earlier. Then Emily walks in and joins the deceased people, who include Mrs. Gibbs, her mother-in-law who passed away three years before, her brother Wally, who died of a burst appendix when he was young, and Mr. Stimson, the choir director who committed suicide. Emily realizes that even though she has died, she has the ability to go back and relive days from her past if she wants to. The dead people warn her not to do it because it is a much more depressing experience than she thinks it will be. Emily, however, will not be deterred. She chooses to go back to her twelfth birthday. As she relives the experience, she also watches herself reliving it, and she notices how her mother never really stops to look at her. She sees how blind the living are to what's important or how limited their time on earth will be. Emily wants to tell her young mother about the future, but she is unable, which upsets her until she asks to leave this scene from her life. She realizes that going back is unfulfilling because she can't change anything. Living people do not appreciate their lives the way that they should.

Related Links:

Our Town Quiz
Our Town Quotes
Our Town Act 1 part 1 Summary
Our Town Act 1 part 1 Quiz
Our Town Act 1 part 2 Quiz
Our Town Act 2 part 1 Quiz
Our Town Act 2 part 2 Quiz
Our Town Act 3 Quiz
Our Town Act 1 part 2 Summary
Our Town Act 2 part 1 Summary
Our Town Act 2 part 2 Summary
Our Town Act 3 Summary
Our Town Important Characters
Literature Summaries

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