Our Town is a three-act play written by Thornton Wilder. The play is an account of the changes in the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire in the early 20th century. The overall message of the play as put forth by Wilder is how little we heed on life and our surroundings. This message is put forth through the words of two main characters in the play i.e. the Stage Manager and Emily Webb. Wilder uses the characters to say what he intends to portray through the play. In this essay, I will discuss the characterization of the play and how they help Wilder to bring out the true message he wants to impart.
The main characters of the play are the Stage Manager, Emily Webb, and George Gibbs apart from other characters like Editor Charles Webb, Doctor Frank Gibbs, Mrs. Julia Gibbs, and Mrs. Myrtle Webb. First, I will discuss the character of the Stage Manager. He is a unique creation of Wilder who in a way is a part of himself. The main purpose of the Stage manager is to move from one scene to the other while in another aspect he is a constant reminder to the audience that they are the viewers and not the participants of the play.
As the leader of the play, the Stage Manager familiarizes the play, characters and settings of Grover’s Corner to the audience. His comments like “There’s some scenery for those who think they have to have scenery” (Act I, Part 1) or mentioning the time and date or giving the geographic positioning of Grover’s Corner to be “just across the Massachusetts line” (Act I, Part 1) in Act 1 helps in familiarization process.
Act II begins in 1904 when the Stage Manager narrates the events that have passed in three years. He describes the two women Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb in the following words: “They brought up two children apiece, washed, and cleaned the house— and never a nervous breakdown” (Act II, Part 1).
In Act II after describing the time lag between the two acts and describing the scene he steps into the play and becomes Mr. Morgan who serves ice cream to Emily and George. Thus, it is clear that Wilder deliberately makes the character of the Stage Manager ambiguous, as it is this ambiguity that allows him to keep the connection on stage and the audiences.
It is in Act II, the Stage Manager relates an important line, which is further developed as the central theme of the plot: “You’ve got to love life to have life, and you’ve got to have life to love life” (Act II, Part 1). This implies that Wilder wanted to convey the message through the Stage Manager that one needs to appreciate every aspect of life.
Emily Webb is another central character of the play. The central theme of the play has been reiterated through her in the final act by wilder when she states “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?” (Act III, Part 3). Throughout the play, Emily plays a significant role. In the first act, Emily expresses her affection for George when she agrees to do his homework. The second act describes their marriage, which is reminiscent of young love, and the final act is where Emily becomes the chief conveyor of the theme of the play.
The play shows its full theme through Emily coming back to the human world on her 12th birthday and her realization of the little thoughtfulness of the humans is demonstrated through words like, “Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me.” (Act III, Part 3) and then in desperation, Emily turns to the Stage Manager and tells him: “I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another” and asks the Stage Manager to take her back to her grave “up the hill — to my grave”. As she leaves, she relates the main idea, which Wilder intended to portray which were spoken through Emily: “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” (Act III, Part 3) Then she asks the Stage Manager, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? — every, every minute?” (Act III, Part 3).
I feel the two characters of Emily and the Stage Manager were intended to bring the real theme of the play. The rest of the characters were used as props to help these two main characters bring forth the main idea. In a way where all the other characters helping Emily to realize that the life gone cannot be recovered. One must make the best of it when one has it. Thus, it is through the characters in the play, Wilder shows how they initially failed to realize the true essence of life and remorse when they were dead and were about to leave the life they neglected so.
Wilder, Thornton. Our Town. Harper Collins, 2003.