Part two: From the introduction of Professor Willard to the end of the Act
So—people a thousand years from now. . . . This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying.See Important Quotations Explained
After shooing Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs offstage, the Stage Manager announces that “we’re going to skip a few hours,” but first introduces an expert on Grover’s Corners to give a “scientific account” of the town. Professor Willard, an academic from the State University, lays out a series of basic facts about Grover’s Corners—geological data, the ethnic makeup of the inhabitants, and population figures. Professor Willard mentions that the town is very homogeneous: nearly all the residents are white—primarily “English brachiocephalic blue-eyed stock”—and are overwhelmingly Republican and Protestant. The population is nearly constant, as the birth and death rates roughly balance each other. The Stage Manager thanks and dismisses Professor Willard, then calls on Mr. Webb, the editor of the local paper, to give a “political and social report.” Mrs. Webb comes onstage to announce that her husband has been delayed because he has just cut his hand while slicing an apple. Mr. Webb soon appears and gives his report, his finger bandaged in a handkerchief.
After Mr. Webb finishes his report, the Stage Manager asks if anyone in the audience has any questions for Mr. Webb. There are indeed several questions, shouted out by actors planted in the crowd. When a Woman in the Balcony asks how much drinking goes on in Grover’s Corners, Mr. Webb replies that only a minimal amount takes place. A Belligerent Man demands to know whether the inhabitants of Grover’s Corners are aware of “social injustice and industrial inequality” and whether any of them intends to do anything to solve these problems. Mr. Webb replies that while people in Grover’s Corners talk about economic disparities all the time and want all “diligent” and “sensible” people to live well, the only thing they can do is try to help those who need help and leave other people alone. When a Lady in a Box asks if there is any “culture or love of beauty” in the town, Mr. Webb answers that though the town itself has little cosmopolitan culture, the residents appreciate the simple pleasures in life, such as the observation of nature. Done taking questions, Mr. Webb retires to his house and begins mowing the lawn. The Stage Manager announces that it is now early afternoon in Grover’s Corners, but then notices that he has misjudged the time and that it is actually later in the afternoon than he thought.
Emily Webb enters, on her way home from school. She reaches her yard, jokes a little with her father, and picks some flowers. George Gibbs walks down Main Street, also coming home from school. He stops to say hello to Emily and compliments her on a speech she gave in class that day. The two talk about mathematics and Emily promises to help George with his homework. George starts to discuss his plans to become a farmer and eventually take over his Uncle Luke’s farm, but he stops when Mrs. Webb comes outside. George says hello to Mrs. Webb, but then hastily leaves to go to the baseball field. Left alone with her mother, Emily asks if she is good-looking. Mrs. Webb scolds Emily for asking such a silly question, but assures her that she is pretty enough.
The Stage Manager interrupts again, thanking Emily and her mother, who withdraw from the stage. The Stage Manager announces that he has yet to reveal everything about Grover’s Corners, and tells the audience about a time capsule being placed in the foundation of the new bank under construction in town. The prospective contents of the time capsule include issues of the New York Times and Mr. Webb’s Sentinel, as well as a Bible, a copy of the Constitution, and a book of plays by William Shakespeare. The Stage Manager says that he will have a copy of this play, Our Town, placed in the cornerstone so that people in the future will know some simple facts about everyday life at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The lights dim as the Stage Manager speaks, and he announces that evening has fallen. A chorus in the orchestra pit, directed by Simon Stimson, begins singing the hymn “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.” George and Emily reappear onstage, sitting in their respective bedrooms and talking to each other through their open windows. The stage directions indicate that the two youngsters actually sit on the tops of two ladders. Dr. Gibbs calls to his son, asking him to come downstairs for a moment. When George descends, his father asks him to be more responsible around the house and to help his mother with chores more often. Ashamed, George begins to cry, and his father offers him a handkerchief. Before sending George back upstairs, Dr. Gibbs says that he will increase George’s allowance because George will have more expenses as he grows older.
Meanwhile, the ladies—Mrs. Gibbs, Mrs. Webb, and Mrs. Soames— return home from choir practice. A tireless gossip, Mrs. Soames tries to strike up a conversation about the apparent alcoholism of the choirmaster, Mr. Stimson. Thinking the subject is inappropriate, Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb halt the discussion and say good night. Mrs. Gibbs goes inside and talks to her husband—about Mr. Stimson, no less—while Rebecca joins George at his upstairs window. The two youngsters stare out at the moon.