Our Town Summary
Our Town opens with "no curtain, no scenery." The Stage Manager, who serves as a narrator and an intermediary between the audience and the characters, introduces the play and the production. He tells us that we will be considering the town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire: an ordinary town at the turn of the twentieth century with no particular claim to fame. The Stage Manager walks us through the opening of a day in 1901, and the morning rituals of the Webb and Gibbs families. Dr. Gibbs is on his way home from delivering twins. Both mothers come downstairs and prepare breakfast, while their children - Emily and Wally Webb, and George and Rebecca Gibbs - get ready for school. Once the children have left, Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb talk outside about their husbands and about travel until the Stage Manager interrupts the scene.
He introduces two experts on Grover's Corners: a professor and the town newspaper editor Mr. Webb, who give us a socioeconomic account of the town. Individuals in the audience question Mr. Webb about alcohol abuse, love of culture, and social awareness in the community. When the interview has finished, the Stage Manager brings us back to the day at hand. Emily and George are on their way home from school, and George tells Emily that he can see her at her desk from his window. She agrees to help him with his homework in the future.
The Stage Manager pauses the narrative and tells about the time capsule that will be placed in the cornerstone of the new bank in Grover's Corners. A copy of Our Town will be included in the time capsule, so that future people will know how the citizens of Grover's Corners lived, loved, and died.
When the day resumes, it is evening; the town choir sings the hymn, "Blessed be the tie that binds." George and Emily sit atop of ladders, representing their second floor bedrooms, as Emily helps George with his homework. Emily gazes at the moon while George moons at Emily. Mrs. Gibbs comes home from choir practice and tells her husband that Simon Stimson, the choirmaster, was drunk again. Dr. Gibbs also calls George downstairs and reprimands him for not helping his mother with chores. Mr. Webb walks home from work and runs into the drunken Simon, who resists Mr. Webb and the constable's perfunctory efforts to look after him. Back upstairs in the Gibbs house, George and Rebecca continue to look at the moon, and Rebecca wonders about a letter her friend received, with an address line that included unnecessary information about the girl's location in the solar system. The Stage Manager dismisses the audience for intermission.
The Second Act begins much like the first act, but three years later on Emily and George's wedding day. Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs talk about how young the couple are, and what their own marriage was like in its early days. George goes next door to visit Emily, but her parents prevent the bridegroom from seeing his bride; he chats awkwardly with Mr. Webb about the value of marriage.
The Stage Manager interrupts and presents a flashback to a year previous, when George and Emily first realized that they were meant to be together at the end of their junior year of high school. George has just been elected class president and Emily elected class secretary and treasurer. While walking home, George asks Emily why she does not treat him the same way she used to, and she says that he has changed a lot since his success as a baseball player. She says that George has grown arrogant and has failed to notice her affection. George says that he appreciates her criticism and will try to change, and that he hopes she will write to him when he goes away to college. After talking about it a little more, George realizes that he does not want to go away to college after all, not if it would mean losing interest in the people of Grover's Corners. He asks Emily if she would possibly be his girl, and she says that she always has been.
The Stage Manager ends the flashback, and introduces the wedding scene. He steps into the role of the minister, and talks about the institution of marriage. While walking down the aisle, George and Emily panic, but their parents reassure them and the Stage Manager/Minister goes on with the ceremony.
The Third Act begins nine years later, and takes place in the cemetery, signified by three rows of equally spaced chairs on one side of the stage. Mrs. Gibbs, Wally Webb, Simon Stimson, and others sit in these graves. The Stage Manager introduces the cemetery and discusses the nature of death and the soul. On the other side of the stage, the undertaker talks to Sam, a Grover's Corners boy who has been out of town for the last few years. He has returned to town for Emily's funeral - she died in childbirth. He also notes the graves of Mrs. Gibbs and Simon, who killed himself.
The funeral party enters, with black umbrellas. The dead talk amongst themselves, commenting on the weather and the choice of hymns. Emily emerges from among the mourners and sits down next to Mrs. Gibbs. She is anxious and talkative, and she attempts to update her mother-in-law on her life since she died, but Mrs. Gibbs is not much interested. Emily wonders how long it will be before she stops feeling connected to the living people. She realizes that she has the ability to go back to one day of her life and re-live it, and she asks the Stage Manager for permission to do so. Mrs. Gibbs warns her that it is not a good idea to return to her life, but Emily insists, and chooses her twelfth birthday.
The Stage Manager begins to describe Grover's Corners for Emily as he did for us in the first act, and she sees the town appear on the empty side of the stage. Emily watches as her mother prepares breakfast and lays out her birthday presents, and then she enters the room and both says her lines as twelve-year-old Emily and comments on the scene she is watching. She finds it very distressing. Emily begs her mother to slow down and look at her, to appreciate how happy they were, but the scene just charges forward and Emily can't stop it. She tells the Stage Manager that she sees now why they warned her not to go back, and she says goodbye to living world and returns to the cemetery. She is saddened by the experience, but wiser, and better able to detach herself when George appears and flings himself at the foot of her grave. Emily surmises that the living are incapable of understanding life. The Stage Manager draws the curtain, and sends everyone home.
Our Town Essays and Related Content
- Our Town: Major Themes
- Our Town: Essays
- Our Town: Questions
- Our Town: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Thornton Wilder: Biography
- Our Town Summary
- About Our Town
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Act I - "Daily Life"
- Summary and Analysis of Act II - "Love and Marriage"
- Summary and Analysis of Act III - "I guess you can reckon what that one's about"
- No curtain. No scenery.
- Related Links on Our Town
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources