Essay Topics Our Town

From the very beginning of the play, the illusion of the invisible wall is abolished and the audience sees an empty stage in half light. After some time, the Stage Manager appears and begins placing a table and chairs on stage. Not until the lights dim and the audience is left in total darkness does the Stage Manager—director, puppeteer, and illusionist—speak. He functions as an all-knowing citizen of Grover’s Corners: He manipulates time by re-creating the past and revealing the future, interrupts the dialogue of the characters, invites questions from the audience, provides information, at times fills the roles of other characters, and philosophizes about the meaning of life. He is the central figure of the play, full of simple wisdom and unself-conscious humor. He is a spellbinder, appealing to audiences and readers of all ages.

An element of Our Town that must be attractive especially to young people is the simplicity and directness of the language. Wilder was a master of colloquial speech who did not resort to too many rhetorical devices. His diction and syntax are easily understandable without being in the least monotonous. In fact, much variety of tone is evident in Our Town. One can consider, for example, Dr. Gibbs’s statement to his wife about a father-son relationship that “there’s nothing so terrifying in the world as a son. The relation of father to a son is the damnedest, awkwardest—. I always come away feeling like a soggy sponge of hypocrisy.” One may also note George’s earnest outcry before the wedding—“Ma, I don’t want to grow old. Why’s everybody pushing me so?”—and Emily’s beautiful farewell to...

(The entire section is 684 words.)

  • 1

    How does Wilder use the hymn "Blessed Be The Tie That Binds" to reinforce the themes of the play? Do you think the reference is religious?

  • 2

    As a class or group, experience a production of Our Town-this can be a play, a radio adaptation, or even the 1940 movie adaptation. How does watching a production of the play affect your perception of the characters on the page? Do they seem more or less "archetypal" on stage than on paper?

  • 3

    Thornton Wilder once wrote: "I've always thought [Emily should live]. In a movie you see the people so close to that a different relation is established. In the theatre they are halfway abstractions in an allegory; in the movie they are very concrete. So in so far as the play is a Generalized Allegory she dies - we die - they die; in so far as it's a Concrete Happening it's not important that she die. Let her live - the idea will have been imparted anyway."

    How do you interpret this quote? What implications does it have for your reading of the play? If you were directing a film of Our Town, would you let Emily live?

  • 4

    Although there is no direct, specific reference to Christianity or God in the play, Our Town can be read as a Christian play, if you interpret the Stage Manager's statement that the dead are waiting for something big to mean that they are waiting for the second coming. But Wilder did not identify as a Christian. Do you think Wilder intended the end of his play to be religious, non-religious, neither or both?

  • 5

    Many see an element of nostalgia and sentimentalizing in the portrayal of Grover's Corners, but the town is also shown as stifling for people like Simon Stimson. Is Our Town a celebration of small town life, or is it a criticism?

  • 6

    Imagine Our Town with realistic scenery and props, and no pantomime. Could such a production work? How would the play be affected by such a change?

  • 7

    How does Wilder dramatize the passage of time? Aside from standard dramatic elements like the changing seasons and the Stage Manager referring to his watch, what other techniques does he use to show the advance of the life of Grover's Corners?

  • 8

    We are told that Grover's Corners is an unremarkable town, and yet in some ways it is the main character of the play. How does Wilder employ the playwright's tools of characterization as regards to the town as a community?

  • 9

    The use of the pronoun "our" in the title of the play encourages inclusiveness for the audience - Grover's Corners is the town of the Webbs and Gibbs, and also the Stage Manager, and also the audience. What other cues does Wilder use to encourage audience identification with the town and its inhabitants?

  • 10

    Contrast the happiness of the Gibbs and Webb families with the misery of Simon Stimson. Is it true that Simon is just not cut out for small town life, or is there more to it?

  • 11

    Compare Mrs. Gibbs' wanderlust to her husband and son's resistance to leaving town. What are the implications of staying home-both positive and negative?

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