Our Town

Give two motifs from the play. Explain why they are motifs.


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The Stages of Life

The division of the play’s narrative action into three acts reflects Wilder’s division of human life into three parts: birth, love and marriage, and death. The play opens at the dawn of a new day with a literal birth: at the very beginning of Act I, we learn that Dr. Gibbs has just delivered twins. Act II details George and Emily’s courtship and marriage. Act III features a funeral and delves into the possibilities of an afterlife. The overall arc of the story carries the audience from the beginning of life to its end. Our observation of the lives of the Gibbs and Webb families, condensed into a few short hours, leads us to realize that the human experience, while multifaceted, is nevertheless brief and precious. Indeed, Wilder demonstrates how quickly the characters proceed from stage to stage. George and Emily marry in Act II, but they appear just as nervous and childish as they do in Act I. The second stage of life has snuck up on them. This intermingling of the stages of life recurs later, when the second stage of Emily’s life, her marriage, is suddenly cut short when she dies in childbirth.

Natural Cycles

While Our Town spans the course of many years, from 1899 through 1913, it also collapses its events into the span of one day. It opens with a morning scene and ends with a nighttime scene: Act I begins just before dawn, and Act III ends at 11 P.M. The play also metaphorically spans the course of a human life, tracing the path from birth in Dr. Gibbs’s delivery of twins in the opening scene, to death in Emily’s funeral in the final scene. The span of a life parallels the span of the day: birth is related to dawn, and death is related to night. Wilder’s attention to natural cycles highlights his themes of the transience of life and the power of time. While a single human life comprises only one finite revolution from birth to death, the world continues to spin, mothers continue to give birth, and human beings continue to exist as just one part of the universe.