Our Town

by: Thornton Wilder

Emily Webb

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?

(See Important Quotations Explained)

With the exception of the Stage Manager, Emily is Our Town’s most significant figure. Emily and George Gibbs’s courtship becomes the basis of the text’s limited narrative action—these two characters thus prove extremely significant not only to the play’s events but also to its themes. In Act I, Emily displays her affection for George by agreeing to help him with his homework. In Act II, the play bears witness to Emily’s marriage to George, and the young couple’s wedding becomes emblematic of young love. In Act III, when the play’s themes become fully apparent, Emily emerges as the primary articulator of these themes. After her death, Emily joins the dead souls in the town cemetery and begins to view earthly life and human beings from a new perspective. She realizes that the living “don’t understand” the importance of human existence. After reliving her twelfth birthday, Emily sees that human beings fail to recognize the transience of life and to appreciate it while it lasts. This conclusion, which Emily expresses in her agonized wish to leave her birthday and return to the cemetery, encapsulates the play’s most important theme: the transience of individual human lives in the face of general human and natural stability.