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.