Back To CourseAP English Literature: Tutoring Solution
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Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.
Thornton Wilder was born in 1897 in Madison, Wisconsin. Wilder was raised in a highly educated and successful family. He attended college at both Yale and Princeton. Throughout the 1920s, Wilder was a teacher, but also a writer. In 1928, he published his second novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, an award for achievement in American literature.
In the 1930s, Wilder moved from novels to Broadway. In 1938, he produced Our Town, a play that tells the story of everyday life in small town America. The play also won the Pulitzer Prize.
With the start of World War II, Wilder enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the Air Force. After the war, he continued to write plays and lecture at several universities. Wilder died in 1975.
Let's take a look at the different characters in the play Our Town.
The Stage Manager: The narrator. He interacts with the characters and the audience. He is all-knowing.
Emily Webb: The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Webb, and Wally's older sister. Throughout the play, she grows from a sweet child, to a teen, and then to a bride.
George Gibbs: The son of Doctor and Mrs. Gibbs. He is popular, an athlete, and has goals to be a farmer one day. However, once he falls for Emily, he decides not to go to agriculture school and marries young.
Doc Gibbs: George's dad and the town doctor. His wife often encourages him not to work so hard.
Mrs. Gibbs: George's mom. In the beginning of the play, she wants to travel outside of Grover's Corners, but her husband is too scared to do so. She dies in Act III from pneumonia and never fulfills her dream.
Mr. Webb: Emily's dad and the editor of the town newspaper. He is a kind man who is well-liked throughout the town.
Mrs. Webb: Emily and Wally's mom. While she is in several scenes, we never really get to know much about her. She is a kind mom, but appears rather busy and rushed.
Now let's look at a brief summary of the play.
The play opens by introducing the audience to its setting, Grover's Corners, and to the Stage Manager, the narrator of the play, who also interacts with the audience. The Stage Manager is omniscient: he knows the thoughts and actions of all the characters. Grover's Corners is a small town, still years away from its first automobile. As the Stage Manager notes, most families stay in Grover's Corners forever; they are born and die here.
The first act of the play shows the daily life of Grover's Corners. We are introduced to two families: the Gibbs family and the Webb family. The Stage Manager comments to the audience about the actions of the first act, which include a newsboy delivering papers, milk being delivered, Doc Gibbs leaving for work, and the Webb family eating breakfast. When the children leave for school, Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs meet to talk for a while. In the second part of the first act, we see the children, George Gibbs and Emily Webb, interact with each other. George compliments Emily on a speech she made at school and Emily watches him play ball.
In the second act of the play, we are told that three years have passed. The morning starts just as the previous act, newspaper and milk being delivered and the families eating breakfast. However, this morning, as we learn, Emily and George are getting married. The Stage Manager updates the audience on the last three years that led to the wedding between the two: George and Emily had a fight about how their friendship had changed, George took Emily for a soda at the drugstore, and the two admitted that they had feelings for each other. Before the wedding, both George and Emily worry about growing older and having to grow up.
The final act opens in the cemetery. We learn that several characters have died, including Mrs. Gibbs and Wallace Webb. Emily has also died during childbirth. The remaining characters are there to prepare for Emily's funeral. Emily sits with Mrs. Gibbs watching the funeral from beyond the grave and decides that she wants to go back, if only for a moment, to see the life that she had lived. The Stage Manager takes Emily back in time to her twelfth birthday. Emily watches her family, but it is all too much for her. She returns to the cemetery, and those who have died talk about living and how they do not fully understand what life has to offer.
Our Town represents anyone's town. The daily events and families could be a part of any town. We see in the opening scene that the families in the play are normal, everyday families to which we can relate. It becomes easy to picture our own towns and our own families.
The idea of death is very strong in the play. From the beginning, the Stage Manager introduces each character, as well as the date of his or her death. In addition to death, we also see a strong connection to life. We see the play start in the morning (the beginning of life) and end at night (the end of life). There is a sense of sadness throughout the play, but also a sense of hopefulness. We watch as two young children grow, fall in love, and marry.
From the beginning of the play, we are met with the theme of mortality and not taking it for granted. As mentioned before, the Stage Manager tells the audience when each character will die. The characters do not yet understand how brief life really is, and they spend the time going about their everyday lives, not leaving the town or fulfilling dreams they may have.
Our Town also creates a theme of appreciating life. Because life is so brief, it's important that we don't waste it. After her death, Emily says to the Stage Manager, 'Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?' There is a sense of urgency at the end of the play to not waste the life that you are given.
There is a theme of companionship and marriage. We see the relationships of the parents and then the relationships between George and Emily evolve. Love is a large part of the life of all the characters. There is the love between the parents and their children, the love that develops between George and Emily. Wilder writes, 'People are meant to go through life by two.'
Finally, there is the suggestion of the circle of life. We see this with the daily life that changes throughout the play. And it is strongly present at the end of the play, in the graveyard. The dead meet to discuss the living and the idea that they don't appreciate life as they live it. The Stage Manager says in the play, 'We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses and ain't names, and it ain't even the stars...Everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings...There's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being.'
Our Town tells a story of the town Grover's Corners and focuses on two families: the Webbs and the Gibbs. In Grover's Corners, life is ordinary and families stay for generations. Families wake up, go to work, go to school, and spend time making small talk. Eventually, the two children of the families, Emily and George, develop a friendship and fall in love. They marry, but Emily dies young during childbirth.
Our Town is a play that shares the idea that we live life without really appreciating what it has to offer. Once we die, and are able to see what we had, it is really too late. Major themes of the play include mortality, appreciating life, companionship and marriage, love, and the circle of life.
|Author, Terms, Title, Characters & Acts||Explanations|
|Thornton Wilder||American novelist and playwright born in 1897 in Madison, Wisconsin|
|Pulitzer Prize||awarded to Wilder for achievement in American literature for his second novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey|
|Our Town||a play that tells the story of everyday life in small-town America ; it also won the Pulitzer Prize|
|The Stage Manager||the all-knowing narrator who interacts with the characters and the audience|
|Omniscient||one who knows the thoughts and actions of all the characters|
|Emily Webb||daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Webb; grows from a sweet child to a teen and then a bride|
|George Gibbs||son of Doctor and Mrs. Gibbs who has a goal of becoming a farmer one day, but once he falls for Emily, he decides not to go to agriculture school and instead marries young|
|Act 1||opens with the daily life of Grover's Corners and focuses on the Gibb and Webb families|
|Act 2||3 years later and the day of the marriage between George and Emily|
|Act 3||the setting is the cemetery where the dead and the living reflect on life, marriage and regrets|
|Analysis||play is an overwhelming metaphor about life and death of the common man anywhere, anytime|
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Back To CourseAP English Literature: Tutoring Solution
18 chapters | 245 lessons