Our Town, a play about everyone’s town

Our_Town Our Town, Thornton Wilder, 1938 In our modern multicultural world, the play, Our Town, by Thornton Wilder seems to transcend through time with its universal themes. There are dynamics that make the human experience different; however there are common elements that touch us all, and Our Town portrays the essence of humanity through the themes of love, friends and family, and death.  The play begins by depicting a fictional middle class town in New Hampshire called Grover’s Corner. Grover’s Corner is a representation of an average American small town during the early 1900s. Two families are the main focus of the play, which are the Gibbs and the Webb. In the first Act, readers learn about what transpires in a typical day in the town through the lives of the Webb and Gibbs family.  Very basic information is given by the Stage Manager but the point is that life is mostly about the simplicity of the ordinary events. Wilder cleverly leaves much to the imagination in the play because he wants the readers and viewers to improvise on their own and imagine what things look like in their heads. Act 2 of Our Town is all about love and marriage. Emily and George are the main focus of play as the Stage Manager takes us to the day of their marriage. Of course Emily and George have cold feet, like most people do when their lives are about to change, but they overcome their fears and take a huge adulthood step of leaving their homes and becoming a family of their own. Emily and George grew up as neighbors, and they went to the same school.  They were always friends but as they got older they realized that their interest evolved from friendship level to romantic. Emily and George’s relationship represent romantic love. We may not experience love in the events that Emily and George did, but everyone has, or will experience romantic love in some form or another. In the last act of Our Town, readers or viewers are given a unique portrayal of Emily in the afterlife.  Emily watches her funeral and understands that she never appreciated her life or love ones.  She had the opportunity to revisit the past where she was able to watch one of her childhood birthdays. Emily saw how her family just went about their business but did not take in the moments that were right in front of them. Even though the family went to through ordinary events, they never took time to cherish their time together.  Emily is heart-broken by her realization and goes into the eternity grieving what she left behind. Although the families portrayed in the Our Town may have different lifestyles, they go through experiences that are not foreign to us. A person does not have to grow up in a neighborhood like Grover’s Corner to identify with the characters and their struggles. The play takes place on May 7th 1901, but in the year of 2015 we still deal with family issues, love, marriage, and death. Our Town is symbolically a story of everyone’s town. I’ve attached a video to this post that is shown in the Thornton Wilder Society website, which talks about the relevance of Our Town in our society today. JA

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4 thoughts on “Our Town, a play about everyone’s town

  1. Great post, thank you! I especially like the way you wrote “A person does not have to grow up in a neighborhood like Grover’s Corner to identify with the characters and their struggles.”
    It is remarkable that Thornton Wilder achieves this while innovating in terms of writing and directing. Wilder did not use perfect (though fake) scenery and a traditional stage manager to relay his message. The utter lack of scenery and the bluntness of the stage manager, who speaks directly to the audience, help communicate the fundamental in Our Town. By this I mean Our Town is not about frills or plot twists or any extraordinary event or individual. It’s about common people, living day to day, and its final message, that perhaps we should slow down, look one another in the eye and acknowledge our thankfulness or love or dislike or whatever it is we’re feeling in the moment, is timeless and far-reaching.

    -SD

  2. JA, you do an amazing job at help us analyze this play. Our Town was an ironic play. It breaks away from the traditional Shakespearean play structure (maybe all play structures) and leaves the audience/reader in a startled state of being. The author/playwright Thornton Wilder opens the play with such an ordinary point of view but magically and quickly transforms this opening into something different. His story plot helps to contribute to the startling feeling that the play leaves the reader with. As JA mentioned, the playwright does in fact leave much of the play to the imagination of the audience. This includes their opinion of the stage manager’s constant input with the play and the questioning and answer period of characters within the play with the audience, which is so uncommon for plays of this time period. This gigantic difference between other plays and Our Town allows for the audience members to realize and understand a different perspective of a well know character position in traditional plays. Wilder breaks the mold of character responsibilities and molds his own views into those who watch. The story plot of Our Town and its themes begins with common story plot of which the audience later finds has a twisted and unrecognizable end that most people of his time did not portray in entertainment. The creative mixture of this story plot and the unusualness of this play structure allows for Wilder’s play to grasp the readers attention and realize that perspective matters.

    DML

    Thanks for the amazing review!

  3. Once upon a time I was a theatre major, some say I even got a degree in it, yet I never read or saw a production of Our Town based primarily on that I heard it was a boring play, the preface even mentions this stigma the play has nowadays. It is easy to see why one could think it is a boring play, not a lot happens on stage, which is fascinating to me. We are told what is going to happen in the second act, we don’t know all the details, but we still know something bad is going to happen and we want to see this badness, this struggle play out. What’s also fascinating to me is that this play was being put on during a time when most plays were attempting to bring as much realism to the stage as possible. Directors and playwrights were trying to use the stage as a direct window into their character’s lives. This play does the opposite of that. Our Town breaks the fourth wall and, as you say, the audience is forced to fill in the gaps and imagine the parts that we don’t see with our imaginations. The stage manager acts as a narrator would in a book, he tells us where to look and the context of a scene. We have to be active participants in order for the play to succeed and not be boring. Our Town begins to bridge the gap between plays and novels, or maybe short stories, as literature genres.

    Great post!

    MAS 2015

  4. Life happens. Life’s short. Life ends. Life after death? Maybe. Leonardo De Vinci once said, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” I believe Thorton Wilder’s Our Town does a fine job at representing those maxims. Between the review, the video and previously posted comments, the essence of what makes Our Town successful is clearly stated. Wilder has managed to produce a mirror-image of the rawest features of life through his uniquely crafted play. It reminds me to not just go through the motions of life, but to try to live it so that when I reach the end, I can look back and say, “it was good and I did my best.” Essentially, I think that Wilder also tries to show us to try to live life without regrets. I think that one particular character who reminded me of that was Emily’s mother, who forewent going on her trip so that she can save her money. One thing my father says is, “I’ve never seen any one with a U-haul behind a hearse.” Live life to the fullest if you can help it; even in small ways, day by day, do what you must to try to enjoy the little things in life because that may be the difference between you looking back with regrets or with the satisfaction that “it was good and I did my best.”

    -JES

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