The host of the play and the dramatic equivalent of an omniscient narrator. The Stage Manager exercises control over the action of the play, cueing the other characters, interrupting their scenes with his own interjections, and informing the audience of events and objects that we cannot see. Although referred to only as Stage Manager and not by a name, he occasionally assumes other roles, such as an old woman, a druggist, and a minister. Interacting with both the world of the audience and the world of the play’s characters, he occupies a godlike position of authority.
Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs’s son. A decent, upstanding young man, George is a high school baseball star who plans to attend the State Agricultural School after high school. His courtship of Emily Webb and eventual marriage to her is central to the play’s limited narrative action. Wilder uses George and Emily’s relationship to ponder the questions of love and marriage in general.
Mr. and Mrs. Webb’s daughter and Wally’s older sister. Emily is George’s schoolmate and next-door neighbor, then his fiancée, and later his wife. She is an excellent student and a conscientious daughter. After dying in childbirth, Emily joins the group of dead souls in the local cemetery and attempts to return to the world of the living. Her realization that human life is precious because it is fleeting is perhaps the central message of the play.
Read an in-depth analysis of Emily Webb.
George’s father and the town doctor. Dr. Gibbs is also a Civil War expert. His delivery of twins just before the play opens establishes the themes of birth, life, and daily activity. He and his family are neighbors to the Webbs.
George’s mother and Dr. Gibbs’s wife. Mrs. Gibbs’s desire to visit Paris—a wish that is never fulfilled—suggests the importance of seizing the opportunities life presents, rather than waiting for things to happen. At the same time, Mrs. Gibbs’s wish for the luxurious trip ultimately proves unnecessary in her quest to appreciate life.
Emily’s father and the publisher and editor of the Grover’s Corners Sentinel. Mr. Webb’s report to the audience in Act I is both informative and interactive, as his question-and-answer session draws the audience physically into the action of the play.
Emily’s mother and Mr. Webb’s wife. At first a no-nonsense woman who does not cry on the morning of her daughter’s marriage, Mrs. Webb later shows her innocent and caring nature, worrying during the wedding that she has not taught her daughter enough about marriage.
A gossipy woman who sings in the choir along with Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs. Mrs. Soames appears in the group of dead souls in Act III. One of the few townspeople we meet outside of the Webb and Gibbs families, Mrs. Soames offers a sense of the interrelated nature of the lives of the citizens of Grover’s Corners.
The choirmaster, whose alcoholism and undisclosed “troubles” have been the subject of gossip in Grover’s Corners for quite some time. Wilder uses Mr. Stimson’s misfortunes to explore the limitations of small town life. Mr. Stimson appears in the group of dead souls in Act III, having committed suicide by hanging himself in his attic. He is perhaps most notable for his short speech in Act III, when he says that human existence is nothing but “[i]gnorance and blindness.”
George’s younger sister. Rebecca’s role is minor, but she does have one very significant scene with her brother. Her remarks in Act I—about the location of Grover’s Corners in the universe—articulate an important theme in the play: if the town is a microcosm, representative of the broader human community and the shared human experience, then this human experience of Grover’s Corners lies at the center of a grand structure and is therefore eternal.
Emily’s younger brother. Wally is a minor figure, but he turns up in Act III among the group of dead souls. Wally dies young, the result of a burst appendix on a Boy Scout trip. His untimely death underscores the brief and fleeting nature of life.
The local milkman. Howie’s reappearance during every morning scene—once each in Acts I, II, and III—highlights the continuity of life in Grover’s Corners and in the general human experience.
The paperboy. Joe’s routine of delivering papers to the same people each morning emphasizes the sameness of daily life in Grover’s Corners. We see this sameness continue when Joe’s younger brother, Si, takes over the route for him. Despite this sameness, however, each of the conversations Joe has while on his route is unique, suggesting that while his activities are monotonous, daily life is not.
Joe’s younger brother, also a paperboy. Si’s assumption of his brother’s former job contributes to the sense of constancy that characterizes Grover’s Corners throughout the play.
A professor at the State University who gives the audience a report on Grover’s Corners. Professor Willard appears once and then disappears. His role in the play is to interact with the audience and to inform theatergoers of the specifics of life in Grover’s Corners. His reference to Native Americans reflects Wilder’s understanding that the European ancestors of the current population in Grover’s Corners replaced and extinguished the existing Native American populations.
A local policeman. Constable Warren keeps a watchful eye over the community. His personal knowledge of and favor with the town’s citizens bespeaks the close-knit nature of the town.
Emily Webb’s cousin, who has left Grover’s Corners to travel west, but returns for her funeral in Act III. Though originally from the town, Sam has the air of an outsider. His unawareness of the events that have occurred in Grover’s Corners during his absence parallels the audience’s own unawareness.
The town undertaker. Joe prepares Emily’s grave and remarks on how sad it is to bury young people. This statement emphasizes a theme that grows ever more apparent throughout the play and receives its most explicit discussion in Act III: the transience of human life.