Our Town

Our Town

by Thornton Wilder

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Overview

Our Town by Thornton Wilder

First produced and published in 1938, this Pulitzer Prize--winning drama of life in the small village of Grover's Corners has become an American classic and is Thornton Wilder's most renowned and most frequently performed play.

"Taking as his material three periods in the history of a placid New Hampshire twon, Mr. Wilder has transformed the simple events of human life into universal reverie. He has given familiar facts a deeply moving, philosophical perspective...Our Town is one of the finest achievements of the current stage."
-- Brooks Atkinson

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060512637
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/23/2003
Series: Perennial Classics
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 21,493
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) was an accomplished novelist and playwright whose works, exploring the connection between the commonplace and cosmic dimensions of human experience, continue to be read and produced around the world. His Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of seven novels, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928, as did two of his four full-length dramas, Our Town (1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1943). Wilder's The Matchmaker was adapted as the musical Hello, Dolly!. He also enjoyed enormous success with many other forms of the written and spoken word, among them teaching, acting, the opera, and films. (His screenplay for Hitchcock's Shadow of Doubt [1943] remains a classic psycho-thriller to this day.) Wilder's many honors include the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Book Committee's Medal for Literature.

Read an Excerpt

Act I

No curtain.

No scenery.

The audience, arriving, sees an empty stage in half-light.

Presently the Stage Manager, hat on and pipe in mouth, enters and begins placing a table and three chairs downstage left, and a table and three chairs downstage right.

He also places a low bench at the corner of what will be the Webb house, left.

"Left" and "right" are from the point of view of the actor facing the audience. "Up" is toward the back wall.

As the house lights go down be has finished setting the stage and leaning against the right proscenium pillar watches the late arrivals in the audience.

When the auditorium is in complete darkness he speaks:

Stage Manager:

This play is called "Our Town." It was written by Thornton Wilder; produced and directed by A. . . . (or: produced by A .... ; directed by B .... ). In it you will see Miss C .... ; Miss D .... ; Miss E .... ; and Mr. F .... ; Mr. G .... ; Mr. H .... ; and many others. The name of the town is Grover's Corners, New Hampshire-just across the Massachusetts line: latitude 42 degrees 40 minutes; longitude 70 degrees 37 minutes. The First Act shows a day in our town. The day is May 7, 190 1. The time is just before dawn.

A rooster crows.
The sky is beginning to show some streaks of light over in the East there, behind our mount'in.

The morning star always gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to go, -- doesn't it?

He stares at it for a moment, then goes upstage.

Well, I'd better show you how our town lies. Up here --

That is: parallel with theback wall.

is Main Street. Way back there is the railway station; tracks go that way. Polish Town's across, the tracks, and some Canuck families.

Toward the left.

Over there is the Congregational Church; across the street's the Presbyterian.

Methodist and Unitarian are over there.

Baptist is down in the holla' by the river.

Catholic Church is over beyond the tracks.

Here's the Town Hall and Post Office combined; jail's in the basement.

Bryan once made a speech from these very steps here.

Along here's a row of stores. Hitching posts and horse blocks in front of them. First automobile's going to come along in about five years -- belonged to Banker Cartwright, our richest citizen ... lives in the big white house up on the hill.

Here's the grocery store and here's Mr. Morgan's drugstore. Most everybody in town manages to look into those two stores once a day.

Public School's over yonder. High School's still farther over. Quarter of nine mornings, noontimes, and three o'clock afternoons, the hull town can hear the yelling and screaming from those schoolyards.

He approaches the table and chairs downstage right.

This is our doctor's house, -- Doc Gibbs'. This is the back door.

Two arched trellises, covered with vines and flowers, are pushed out, one by each proscenium pillar.

There's some scenery for those who think they have to have scenery.

This is Mrs. Gibbs' garden. Corn ... peas ... beans ... hollyhocks ... heliotrope ... and a lot of burdock.

Crosses the stage.

In those days our newspaper come out twice a week-the Grover's Corners Sentinel -- and this is Editor Webb's house.

And this is Mrs. Webb's garden.

Just like Mrs. Gibbs', only it's got a lot of sunflowers, too.

He looks upward, center stage.

Right here . . . 's a big butternut tree.

He returns to his place by the right proscenium pillar and looks at the audience for a minute.

Nice town, y'know what I mean?

Nobody very remarkable ever come out of it, s'far as we know.

The earliest tombstones in the cemetery up there on the mountain say 1670-1680 -- they're Grovers and Cartwrights and Gibbses and Herseys -- same names as are around here now.

Well, as I said: it's about dawn.

The only lights on in town are in a cottage over by the tracks where a Polish mother's just had twins. And in the Joe Crowell house, where Joe Junior's getting up so as to deliver the paper. And in the depot, where Shorty Hawkins is gettin' ready to flag the 5:45 for Boston.

A train whistle is heard. The Stage Manager takes out his watch and nods.
Naturally, out in the country -- all around -- there've been fights on for some time, what with milkin's and so on. But town people sleep late.

So -- another day's begun.

There's Doc Gibbs comin' down Main Street now, comin' back from that baby case. And here's his wife comin' downstairs to get breakfast.

Mrs. Gibbs, a plump, pleasant woman in the middle thirties, comes 'downstairs" right. She pulls up an imaginary window shade in her kitchen and starts to make a fire in her stove.

Doc Gibbs died in 1930. The new hospital's named after him.

Mrs. Gibbs died first-long time ago, in fact. She went out to visit her daughter, Rebecca, who married an insurance man in Canton, Ohio, and died there -- pneumonia -- but her body was brought back here. She's up in the cemetery there now-in with a whole mess of Gibbses and Herseys -- she was Julia Hersey 'fore she married Doc Gibbs in the Congregational Church over there.

In our town we like to know the facts about everybody.

There's Mrs. Webb, coming downstairs to get her breakfast, too.

-- That's Doc Gibbs. Got that call at half past one this morning.

And there comes Joe Crowell, Jr., delivering Mr. Webb's Sentinel.

Dr. Gibbs has been coming along Main Street from the left. At the point where be would turn to approach his house, be stops, sets down his -- imaginary -- black bag, takes off his bat, and rubs his face with fatigue, using an enormous handkerchief.

Mrs. Webb, a thin, serious, crisp woman, has entered her kitchen, left, tying on an apron. She goes through the motions of putting wood into a stove, lighting it, and preparing breakfast.

Our Town. Copyright © by Thornton Wilder. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Brooks Atkinson

"Taking as his material three periods in the history of a placid New Hampshire town, Mr. Wilder has transmuted the simple events of human life into universal reverie. He has given familiar facts a deeply moving, philosophical perspective... Our Town is one of the finest achievements of the current stage."

Reading Group Guide

Introduction

It can be argued that the essence of Thornton Wilder's genius can be found in his greatest and most acclaimed work, the American classic Our Town (1938). Our Town chronicles the lives of the townspeople of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire during three time periods -- 1901, 1904, and 1913, respectively. We meet the omnipresent Stage Manager, who stoically narrates on a nearly bare stage the inevitable and yet unpredictable cycle of life, death, and all of the seemingly mundane things in-between. It is the simplicity of the play and the honesty of the prose that is so riveting and ultimately heartbreaking in its scope. Renowned theater critic Brooks Atkinson's words are just as accurate now as when he first wrote them in his New York Times review of February 5, 1938 on the Broadway premiere of Our Town. "Mr. Wilder has transmuted the simple events of human life into universal reveries. He has given familiar facts a deeply moving, philosophical perspective. . . . By stripping the play of everything that is not essential, Mr. Wilder has given it a profound, strange, otherworldly significance. . . . It is a hauntingly, beautiful play."

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the significance of the nearly unadorned stage in Our Town? How does the stage being devoid of extraneous decoration enhance the inner meaning of the play?

  2. "Nice town, y'know what I mean? Nobody very remarkable ever come out of it, s'far as we know" (p. 6) proclaims the Stage Manager rather bluntly about the inhabitants of the small town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. Do you agree with the Stage Manager's opinion that no"remarkable" citizen lived in this town? Does the meaning of "remarkable" go beyond being a famous and noteworthy person?

  3. The Stage Manager asserts: "In Our Town we like to know the facts about everybody" (p. 7). This statement typifies the negative stereotype of small town residents knowing their neighbor's personal business. Which would you prefer -- living in a small town or a big city? How are people's personalities molded by the rural or urban environment in which they reside?

  4. Explain the role of the Stage Manager in Our Town. What does he represent and why is he an important figurehead within the framework of the play? How did you first react when he uttered the lines "Doc Gibbs died in 1930" (p. 7) and "Mrs. Gibbs died first -- long time ago, in fact" (p. 7). Does his prescient knowledge of people's lives and ultimate deaths unnerve you?

  5. How do you interpret the dialogue between Emily Webb and her mother about Emily's attractiveness? Why does Emily's mother not overly praise Emily about her good looks? "You're pretty enough for all normal purposes" (p. 32). Is she being callous by not being enthusiastic about her daughter's beauty?

  6. One of the most moving and thought-provoking excerpts in Our Town is when Rebecca Gibbs recounts to her brother George a letter that Jane Crofut received from her minister when she was ill. The minister addressed the envelope with grandiose flourish: "Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover's Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God" (p. 46). What do you think Thornton Wilder is proclaiming in this passage about man as an individual in the world?

  7. Explain the sentiment expressed in Our Town by Mrs. Gibbs that "people are meant to go through life two by two. It ain't natural to be lonesome" (p. 54). Do you agree with this rationale that people are meant to be paired off together and not live their lives alone? Is it this reasoning that has kept marriage alive in the 21st century? Do you believe that George and Emily sincerely wanted to wed, or was it simply expected of them as a defining rite of passage? Why didn't George and Emily's parents stop the wedding from proceeding, even though they clearly saw that their children where experiencing severe doubts up to the last possible minute about their impending nuptials? Were George and Emily's fears on their wedding day a foreshadowing of the tragedy that would come to them nine years later?

  8. The third and final act of Our Town is heartbreaking in its beauty and poignancy. The dead Emily's cries "It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another" (p. 108) and "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?" (p. 108). These perfectly summarize the ethereal brevity of life. What is Thornton Wilder saying about the cycle of life and the inevitability of death in Our Town? Do human beings ever truly understand that life is short and precious, or does that knowledge only come at old age, or not at all?

About the Author

Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) was an accomplished novelist and playwright whose works explore the connection between the commonplace and the cosmic dimensions of human experience. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928 for The Bridge of San Luis Rey, the second of his seven novels, and received the Pulitzer Prize in drama for Our Town in 1938, and The Skin of Our Teeth in 1943. Wilder's hit play The Matchmaker was adapted as the musical Hello, Dolly! His work is widely read and produced around the world to this day, and his screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) remains a classic psycho-thriller. Wilder's many honors include the Gold Medal for Fiction of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Our Town 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 77 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My English 10 class recently reed the three act skit Out Town. I enjoyed reading it very much but I certainly started of slow. The first to acts very humorous at times but as the stage manager said the first two acts are on life and sadly the last is not George and Emily¿s marriage but death. i liked it mainly because it reminds me to slow down as much as possible and enjoy life, my family, and people around me. when ever i am fighting with someone i think about Our Town and then i realize what i think is important now, wont be so important later.
Guacamole More than 1 year ago
As a play dedicated to recognizing the beauty of simplicity and reiterating the old adage "take nothing for granted," Our Town epitomizes a pure appreciation for life. Without any props, the play stresses the innate elegance of life that requires no enhancement. Free from unnecessary decoration, the stage setting forces one to recognize the profound message of the play and eliminates the frivolous features that distract from that ultimate lesson. Thornton Wilder effectively uses characterization to develop the theme of recognizing and appreciating one's blessings in life. Emily, as the main character of the play, undergoes a defining realization that life's beauty is too magnificent for living people to comprehend. Her journey back to her twelfth birthday opens her eyes to the transience of life and her inability to relive moments of true happiness. Initially described as a naïve character whose understanding of life consisted of her personal longings, Emily returns from her trip wiser and more resigned. This shift in mentality-the drastic change from blissful ignorance to burdensome awareness-stresses the importance of appreciating blessings before they are gone. Contrasting the ideal atmosphere of Grover's Corner, the minor character of Simon Stimson is a misfit in the town's carefree feel. Infamous as the town alcoholic and choir director, Simon Stimson maintains a cynical attitude about life, as best reflected in his defining speech. Equating life to ignorance and blindness, he expresses unexplained bitterness that ultimately culminated in his suicide. While Wilder succeeds in highlighting the need to appreciate life through Simon Stimson's shortcoming, he fails to develop the character to one that is real and believable. In neglecting to address the source of Simon's bitterness, Wilder does not achieve the full potential of such a character. The play has an overall effect that cannot be defined by any one stylistic element. Diction alone does not stand out, and neither does syntax. Imagery is almost nonexistent, as the stage consists of no more than tables, chairs, and actors. Nevertheless, the combination of various factors distinguishes this play as a noteworthy read, the most impressive aspect of which is its rare simplicity.
TMElls More than 1 year ago
Our Town, a play written by Thornton Wilder, is a story that, for awhile, may seem to drag on and be slightly dull, but, at the same time, captures the attention of the reader/viewer and provides an insightful and unique view about humanity. The three-act play is about a little town that is very quiet, includes a small population, and focuses on the two families, the Webbs and the Gibbses. These two families show very important aspects of human life: daily life, love and marriage, and death. The acts are fairly uneventful, which may cause the reader/viewer to be bored. However, this is more true to life, because human lives mainly consist of the uneventful, simple occurrences. This makes the play more relatable to the readers/viewers, as any well written story should be, so that its themes have more impact. Even though the setting and time period of the play may be argued as hard to relate to, the characters and plot are realistic and the small town only allows for greater emphasis on the theme. One of the most important themes in the story is not to take the everyday interactions with one another for granted, for those are most important. To emphasize that people can take each other for granted and not notice one another in a slow-paced, quiet town in which everyone knows and cares about one another has greater impact because it limits the excuse of being busy and having too much to do. The play presents this theme near the end of the story when Emily Gibbs, in her afterlife, reviews her twelfth birthday and is disappointed to find that she cannot look at anyone for a long enough period of time, because her twelve-year-old self had not taken the time to think about what was happening and appreciate the everyday interactions she was having with her family and friends. This theme makes the play an excellent piece of literature, because it presents a very important lesson that everyone must learn. Therefore, even though Our Town is slow paced and may even seem somewhat dull and boring in the beginning, it presents an important message that pertains to almost everyone who reads/views this story. Everyone could take time to appreciate someone or something more than they do, and that message makes this play an effective work of art.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For one I love to read but when a book is boring I stop reading.I also judge by the cover but this was a misgudgement of mine.This play was so interesting. There was no moment where i was bored or uninterested.This book includes a great theory of death read it and youll figure it out.Death is extremely important in this play so pay close attention and dont get distracted because things change in a heart beat.I love the way its a play within a play.I highly recomend this play if you are looking for great american literature.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This play has affected my life more than any other single piece of literature. I think that if you read it and see what it means, every day of your life can be more meaningful.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I decided to read Our Town because my school was going to perform it. The time Skips areound a little but the play is awsome. I really got involved with the characters. It really made me think. I loved it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was absolutely incredible. If you really take the time to think about what is going on, this play has alot of meaning. I especially liked the last scene where Emily realizes her own death, what she has to deal with, and finally coming to terms with her final resting place. If you just think about the ending scene, it is really touching.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was a truely great play. I recomend all watch or read it. The perspective it gives you will make you really pay attention to your life.
mattlhm on LibraryThing 7 days ago
Thornton Wilder's play, Our Town, adequately captures the typical, American small town of the early 20th century where housewives spend their days preparing meals, raising children, and chatting with neighbors; husbands spout pearls of wisdom to whoever will listen, and teenagers muse their development with wide-eyed uncertainty. All this is presided over by a nameless stage manager who breaks the fourth wall to act as ringmaster and tour guide for what takes place in the play's three acts. At times, it seems he's given the lion's share of the dialogue just for the purpose of a continued, meandering exposition of town life that works to minimalize the continuity of the action elsewhere. He just as easily fades and what follows benefits from the information he provided so that the theatergoer always keeps him in mind. The stage manager is even cleverly called upon to portray several secondary characters along the way that add to his prominence to the events that unfold. The third act brings about a sobering development that in the end teaches the vital notion that all of life is precious, not just its bigs moments. With this disclosure, the entire play gels into a life lesson that induces a desire to watch it all over again for further insight into the human condition. This play can be used in a 12th grade English class as one recognized work students can analyze.
MrsLee on LibraryThing 7 days ago
I had only read a mini version back in high school. It was very unappealing. Now, reading the whole thing, I enjoyed it very much. It gives one pause to appreciate the day to day events. This is something which I have long pondered. How my small little life and daily events can be pleasing to God. It's obvious that everyone can't do great things every day for God, and most don't do great things all thier lives. Yet I cannot feel that He is displeased with the day to day small things. In fact, I believe He is most pleased when we realize the importance and the blessing of these small joys and trials prsented to us each day. This play really gets one thinking. I love a story which does that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very emotional book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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jonnymac More than 1 year ago
An innovative and interesting novel. The last chapter/act is very deep on many levels. I'm interested in reading more Wilder now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love this play! We read it in a Creative Writing class I took in 8th grade, and I was blown away. Shout out to the awesomeness of teachers who point their students toward classic works even if they're not presently part of their curriculum. Mrs. Hobbs in Laurinburg, NC took our class to 4 plays and expanded our 13 year old horizons. Read this play and it will do the same for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
On dvd
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Were the president works
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i rated it 3 stars because i love the message, but the way it was distributed was ok. i don't think it shouldve been written as a play. not the worst book i read, but not the best
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kimberly_Book_Addict More than 1 year ago
Our Town is a Pulitzer Prize winning play written by Thornton Wilder in 1938. Our Town is a play told in three acts. It's a very minimalistic play that uses barely any props and set pieces. The actors mime almost all of their actions and even mime some conversations. The character of the stage manager fills in for multiple roles and acts as a buffer between the audience and the acting. He acts as the play's narrator, giving us an even deeper insight into the lives of the characters. Our Town follows the lives of the residents of Grover's Corners through the jovial times and through the miserable times. The play is not long enough for me to go into great detail about it, but suffice it to say it tackles, life, death, marriage, love, birth, and more. In Act I you are introduced into the daily life of the Webb and Gibbs families. Act II, is about the love and marriage of George and Emily. George and Emily are the children from the Webb and Gibbs families. They have lived next door to each other all of their lives and have fallen in love. Act II goes into detail about how they decided to get married and the nerves they were having on the day of their wedding. Act three is about death, Emily's to be exact. You've missed out on nine years of the goings on in Grover's Corners but the stage manager fills you in on the important particulars. Emily decides to revisit a day in her life, so that she can see the people she's left behind once more. I LOVE this play, and I think the reason why I love it is that there is so much truth in what is said. The play as a whole is meant to show that we fill our lives with so many mundane things, that we don't appreciate what we have till it's too late. We don't stop to look around and see the beauty in the people we're sharing our lives with. In the third act, Emily says, "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? -ever, every minute?" This is the point that Wilder tries to drive home with the play. Wilder wants the reader to see that life can end at any time. You can be any age. It doesn't just happen to those that are old, the young can die as well, just as suddenly. He tries to bring an appreciation to life that most people don't understand. Emily is told that it's better to forget the living; the memories of what you didn't do or who you didn't cherish while you're alive is too much for the dead to handle. Emily responds her agreeance by saying, "Good-by, good-by, world. Good-by, Grover's Corners..Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking.and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths.and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you." I read this book in high school, and also saw my high school produce it for the fall drama one year. Reading it as an adult, especially as a newlywed one has given more poignancy to what I read. Having added also to my years, I'm able to appreciate Wilder's words more. As a high school student you're main focuses are getting a boyfriend/girlfriend, who's the most popular student, playing sports well, not getting a pimple, prom dates, etc. You don't worry about spending time with your family, or cherishing the moments of your first kiss, your first love, the birthdays, that chat you had with your friend at lunch. Reading it as an adult now that has experienced love and death in a variety of ways, I can see what Wilder is sayin better now. Kimberly (Reflections of a Book Addict)
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