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Our Town

Thornton Wilder

Key Facts

Important Quotations Explained

Study Questions & Essay Topics

full title  ·  Our Town

author  · Thornton Wilder

type of work  · Play

genre  · Wilder’s play defies most conventional theatrical genres. It is neither a comedy nor a tragedy, neither a romance nor a farce. It is, rather, a contemplative work concerning the human experience.

language  · English

time and place written  · 1934–1938, United States

date of first publication  ·  1938

publisher  · Coward-McCann, Inc.

narrator  · The play does not contain the sort of narrator that a novel might, but the Stage Manager does act as a narrator figure, guiding us through the action.

tone  · The Stage Manager, essentially the play’s narrator, often speaks directly to the audience in an authoritative and informative voice. He is polite but firm in his cues to other characters. However, he also appears quite contemplative at times, especially during his longer monologues. Many characters in the play also have moments of philosophical reverie, and the play’s dialogue and exposition tends to be nostalgic and introspective.

setting (time)  · Act I takes place on May 7, 1901; Act II takes place on July 7, 1904, with a flashback to approximately one year earlier; Act III takes place in the summer of 1913, with a flashback to February 11, 1899

setting (place)  · Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire

protagonists  · The most significant figure in the play is the Stage Manager, who orchestrates the action onstage and serves as the glue that holds disparate scenes together. However, the narrative action revolves around Emily Webb and George Gibbs, who fall in love and get married.

major conflict  · Humans constantly struggle to realize that the eternal exists even within ordinary events.

rising action  · The depiction of daily life; the first romantic conversation between George and Emily; the couple’s wedding

climax  · After dying in childbirth and joining the dead souls in the cemetery, Emily returns to relive a day from her earthly life, which makes her realize how little the living appreciate the value of life.

falling action  · Emily returns to the world of the dead souls in the cemetery.

themes  · The transience of human life; the importance of companionship; the artificiality of the theater

motifs  · The stages of life; natural cycles; morning; the manipulation of time

symbols  · The time capsule; Howie Newsome and the Crowell boys; the hymn “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds”

foreshadowing  ·  George and Emily’s sweet conversations in Act I point toward a burgeoning romance in Act II. The Stage Manager’s indications in Act I that this play will discuss marriage and then death clue us in to the direction that George and Emily’s relationship, which is at the center of the play, will take.

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