The Mundane Beginning of Our Town and its Fantastic Message

During my reading of Our Town, I found myself getting, at first, bored then anxious. I particularly found myself bored at certain parts where daily life was predictable because I had seen them portrayed in many sitcoms of the 90’s. I found myself anxious at the end of act two and the beginning of act three. After the end of act two, I found myself predicting that Emily and George were going to be the first people in town to ever get divorced, which is what drove my anxiousness. I state that I have a love/hate relationship with this play because while I was deeply attracted to the ending and its message, the beginning was too slow. While the predictability of life during this time may not be known for current young adult readers, I believe that this slow beginning is something that may disengage young adult readers (especially if they have not read traditional plays like Shakespeare). While I am torn about teaching it, I do love the ending. My favorite part was when Emily travels to the past and realizes that some of the most important moments of life and how disengaged we are with one another. Any suggestions on how to address this love/hate relationship in a classroom?

– DL(SP15)

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2 thoughts on “The Mundane Beginning of Our Town and its Fantastic Message

  1. I found myself experiencing the exact same manic reactions to this play as the ones you have mentioned. While the resolution of the play does contain a valuable and sentimental message, in a way, reading the first act of the play felt like a hefty price to pay in order to make it to the satisfaction experienced by the finale. I can imagine how some teenagers may get frustrated with the task of getting through the first act, yet I do believe that they too could experience the same sense of content that we all felt once we made it to the end. In response to your question on how to address this love/hate relationship in a classroom, my question to you is…do you have to (address it)? Perhaps it should be recognized at some point, but only after your (or our) students have had time to make their own decisions about how they feel about Wilder’s writing. That in itself may serve as an intriguing conversational piece, as the students will be forced to determine their own evaluations and to critically analyze the text in order to understand WHY they feel this way. I also believe that the themes in this text could easily translate into contemporary themes that students could relate to–depending on what you (or we) choose to supplement the material with as well as the connections we make to their own personal lives. Perhaps a modern rendition of the play, written by the kids themselves, would help them to better connect with the work? There are a multitude of methods that we as teachers can employ in order to help students become drawn into even the most tedious of texts.
    -VM

  2. Our Town is a very unique play–so much so that it probably falls in a category of its own–unconventional. There are two things about the play that make it stand out: the message of the harsh realities of life, and the roles of the stage manager and stage setting. I think that as readers (teachers and students alike) we become afraid of what we are not used to; such things tend to make us feel uncomfortable and uneasy especially if we are not forewarned about the nature of what we’re about to witness. Considering this disposition, I’d like to challenge us–rather than to cringe from the unusual presentation of our town, hone in on the good qualities of the play. For instance, a lot of what we read and watch have tendencies to present ways in which we wish life could be–the fantasy. In fact, in some of the texts we have read in our class, we’ve learned that some authors have premised their stories on real life experiences, but confess that they have shaped the stories to their liking. It’s not to say that their stories are not realistic or that the author to Our Town has not fashioned the story to his liking, but the difference lies with the fact the Our Town provides a demonstration of the joys, tragedies, fears, choices, pressures and goings on of life from an angle that controls the audience’s desire for the embellishment of several props and scenery. Further, the stage manager is present and vocal; he essentially is the guide and lord of the play. I believe that the stage manager is an exciting element to the play because, he reminds us to look past the conventional things we expect in a play and allow the voices of the town folk of Grover’s Corner to speak for themselves. Another unique element the play adds is the afterlife portion.

    I believe that this play can be useful in the classroom of young adult learners. 1 – it can be a great model to students for how to create an imaginary set with few props as the stage manager displays; 2 – it can give students some insight on stage sections, terminologies and their importance; 3 – it can challenge students to make interpretations as to how the play is written affects their comprehension of the story, and their reading flow and tolerance; they can express what they like and don’t like about the play’s unique qualities and why; 4 – and the play is short, so it should hurt too much to consider it.

    -JES

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