Our Town

Our Town
Our Town

1938 first edition cover from the Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division
Written by Thornton Wilder
Characters Stage Manager
Mrs. Myrtle Webb
Mr. Charles Webb
George Gibbs
Emily Webb
Mrs. Julia Gibbs
Dr. Frank F. Gibbs
Simon Stimson
Mrs. Soames
Joe Crowell, Jr.
Howie Newsome
Rebecca Gibbs
Wally Webb
Professor Willard
Woman in the Balcony
Man in the Auditorium
Lady in the Box
Mrs. Louella Soames
Constable Warren
Si Crowell
Three Baseball Players
Sam Craig
Joe Stoddard
Date premiered 4 February 1938
Place premiered Henry Miller's Theatre
New York City, New York
Original language English
Subject Change comes slowly to a small New Hampshire town in the early 20th century.
Genre Drama
Setting 1901 to 1913. Grover's Corners, New Hampshire near Massachusetts.
IBDB profile

Our Town is a three-act play by American playwright Thornton Wilder. It is a character story about an average town's citizens in the early twentieth century as depicted through their everyday lives (particularly George Gibbs, a doctor's son, and Emily Webb, the daughter of the town's newspaper editor and George's future wife). Using metatheatrical devices, Wilder sets the play in a 1930s theater. He uses the actions of the Stage Manager to create the town of Grover's Corners for the audience. Scenes from its history between the years of 1901 and 1913 play out.

Wilder wrote the play while in his 30s. In June 1937, he lived in the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, one of the many locations where he worked on the play. During a visit to Zürich in September 1937, he drafted the entire third act in one day after a long evening walk in the rain with a friend, author Samuel Morris Steward.[1]

Our Town was first performed at McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey on 22 January 1938. It next opened at the Wilbur Theater in Boston, Massachusetts on 25 January 1938. Its New York City debut was on 4 February 1938 at Henry Miller's Theatre, and later moved to the Morosco Theatre. The play was produced and directed by Jed Harris.[2] Wilder received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938 for the work.[3] In 1946, the Soviet Union prevented a production of Our Town in the Russian sector of occupied Berlin "on the grounds that the drama is too depressing and could inspire a German suicide wave."[4]



The play is set in the fictional community of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, modeled upon several towns in the Mount Monadnock region: Jaffrey, Peterborough, Dublin, and others. The narrator gives the coordinates of Grover's Corners as 42°40′ north latitude and 70°37′ west longitude, which is in Massachusetts, about a thousand feet off the coast of Rockport.

Our Town's narrator, the Stage Manager, is completely aware of his relationship with the audience, leaving him free to break the fourth wall and address them directly. According to the script, the play is to be performed with little scenery, no set and minimal props. Wilder was dissatisfied with the theatre of his time: "I felt that something had gone wrong....I began to feel that the theatre was not only inadequate, it was evasive."[5] His answer was to have the characters mime the objects with which they interact. Their surroundings are created only with chairs, tables, and ladders. (e.g., The scene in which Emily helps George with his evening homework, conversing through upstairs windows, is performed with the two actors standing atop separate ladders to represent their neighboring houses.) Says Wilder, "Our claim, our hope, our despair are in the mind – not in things, not in 'scenery.'"[6]


Main characters
  • Dr. Frank F. Gibbs
  • Stage Manager
  • Mrs. Myrtle Webb
  • Mr. Charles Webb
  • Emily Webb
  • George Gibbs
  • Mrs. Julia Gibbs

Secondary characters

  • Simon Stimson
  • Joe Crowell
  • Howie Newsome
  • Rebecca Gibbs
  • Wally Webb
  • Professor Willard
  • Woman in Auditorium
  • Man in Auditorium
  • Another Woman in Auditorium
  • Si Crowell
  • Mrs. Soames
  • Constable Warren
  • Three Baseball Players
  • Joe Stoddard
  • Sam Craig
  • Dead Man
  • Dead Woman
  • Mr. Carter
  • Farmer McCarthy

The Plot of Our Town The Stage Manager guides the play, taking questions from the audience, describing the locations (as scenery is sparse) and making key observations about the world the play creates.

Act I: Daily Life

The play begins with the Stage Manager describing the town. After this come scenes in the Gibbs' and Webbs' homes, where both families prepare their children for school. The Stage Manager then guides the audience through a day in the life of the town. The local milkman, Howie Newsome, reappears during every morning scene—once each in Acts I, II, and III—highlighting the continuity of life in Grover's Corners and in the general human experience. The Stage Manager also has Professor Willard, a long-winded local historian, and Mr. Webb, editor of the Grover's Corners Sentinel, talk about the town. During this scene, Editor Webb answers some questions from actors who have been planted in the audience. After a scene within the Congregational Church at a choir practice, Mrs. Webb, Mrs. Gibbs, and Mrs. Soames discuss Simon Stimson. Stimson is the church organist with a reputation for being a drunkard. Due to his non-conforming nature, he is often the subject of the town's gossip. The act also includes a scene in which George and Emily discuss school. Also on the ladder, George's younger sister Rebecca, talks about the moon and how it might get nearer and nearer until there's a "big 'splosion'". Rebecca proceeds to tell George about a letter that a girl received from her minister in which the address on the envelope says, "Jane Crofut, the Crofut farm, Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, United States of America, continent of North America, the Western Hemisphere, the world, the solar system, the universe, the mind of God," in a reference to how all people are connected through humanity. The subject of "daily life" addressed throughout this act stereotypes the average "American family."

Act II: Love and Marriage

Three years pass and George and Emily announce their plans to wed. The day is filled with stress, topped off by George's visit to the Webb family home. There, he meets Mr. Webb, who tells George of his own father's advice to him: to treat his wife like property and never to respect her needs. Mr. Webb then says that he did the exact opposite of his father's advice and has been happy since. Mr. Webb concludes by telling George not to take advice from anyone on matters of that nature. Here, the Stage Manager interrupts the scene and takes the audience back a year, to the end of Emily and George's junior year. Over an ice cream soda, Emily confronts George about his pride, and they discuss the future and their love for each other. The wedding follows, where George, in a fit of nervousness, tells his mother that he is not ready to marry. Emily, too, tells her father of her anxiety about marriage, saying she wishes she were dead. However, they both regain their composure, and George proceeds down the aisle to be wed by the preacher (played by the Stage Manager). Mrs. Soames is very pleased with the whole affair, as she says, "Isn't this the loveliest wedding?" The text is interrupted by the individual thoughts in a modern twist to Shakespeare's soliloquy.

Act III: Death and Eternity

The setting for Act III is a cemetery near Grover's Corners. The Stage Manager opens this act with a lengthy monologue emphasizing eternity, expressed by the survival of Emily's second child after Emily herself dies giving birth. Emily's coffin is brought to the cemetery and buried, and she emerges from the mourners as a spirit. She joins her relatives and fellow townsfolk in the graveyard, including her mother-in-law, Mrs. Gibbs, Simon Stimson, Mrs. Soames, Wally Webb and Mr. Carter. The dead tell her that they must wait and forget the life that came before, but Emily refuses. Soon Emily's ghost learns it is possible to re-live parts of her past. Despite the warnings of Simon, Mrs. Soames, and Mrs. Gibbs, Emily decides to return to Earth to re-live just one day, her 12th birthday, and realizes just how much life should be valued, "every, every minute." Poignantly, she asks the Stage Manager whether anyone realizes life while they live it, and is told, "No. The saints and poets, maybe--they do some." She then returns to her grave. The Stage Manager concludes the play with a monologue and wishes the audience a good night.

Awards and nominations



The play has been adapted numerous times:


  1. ^ Steward, Samuel; Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas (1977). Dear Sammy: Letters from Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas. Houghton Mifflin. p. 32. ISBN 0395253403. 
  2. ^ "Our Town". Internet Broadway Database. http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=10441. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  3. ^ The Pulitzer Board (1938). "Pulitzer Prize Winners of 1938". The Pulitzer Prizes. http://www.pulitzer.org/awards/1938. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  4. ^ "Play 'Our Town' is Banned in Soviet Berlin Sector", Christian Science Monitor, Feb 13, 1946, p. 13.
  5. ^ Wilder, Thornton. Thornton Wilder, Collected Plays and Writings on Theater. Preface.
  6. ^ Lumley, Frederick (1967). New Trends in 20th Century Drama: A Survey since Ibsen and Shaw. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 333. OCLC 330001. 
  7. ^ "Our Town". Playbill.com. http://www.playbill.com/news/article/142889-David-Cromers-Heralded-Our-Town-Ends-Off-Broadway-Run-Sept-12. Retrieved 2010-12-12. 

Further reading

  • Wilder, Thornton (1938). Our Town: A Play in Three Acts. New York: Coward McCann, Inc.. pp. 128 pp. OCLC 773139. 

External links

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