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Our Town | Study Guide

Thornton Wilder

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Course Hero. "Our Town Study Guide." March 7, 2017. Accessed December 1, 2022.


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Our Town | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Act 1

Each act in Our Town opens in the morning; Act 1 begins at dawn. A character known only as the Stage Manager introduces the play and its setting, a small New Hampshire town named Grover's Corners, and announces the date as May 7, 1901. The curtainless stage is bare but for two sets of tables and chairs, each indicating the kitchen of the Gibbs and Webb households. The town locations the Stage Manager points out are all imaginary.

A few early risers—the town constable, the newspaper boy, and the milk deliveryman—exchange morning greetings with Dr. Gibbs, who is returning home after delivering twins. In the two kitchens Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb are making breakfast and calling to their children to wake up. When the school bell rings, the Gibbs and Webb children rush off to school, leaving their mothers to garden and chat together.

The Stage Manager introduces two speakers to share the history of Grover's Corners. Professor Willard provides a few geographic and historical facts. Then comes Mr. Webb, the editor of the town newspaper, who describes the town's demographics and general character. Next onstage are George Gibbs and Emily Webb, who are in the same grade at school. They agree to set up a "telegraph" from George's bedroom to Emily's so they can do their homework together.

The Stage Manager describes the contents of a time capsule that is going to be buried in the cornerstone of the new bank. He plans to include a copy of Our Town so people in the future will understand life at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the early evening the church choir gathers to rehearse under the drunken direction of Simon Stimson, the choir director and organist. George and his father have a talk about George becoming more responsible around the house. As Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb return home from choir, Stimson weaves down the street past them. George and Rebecca Webb watch the moon from George's bedroom window, and the Stage Manager announces the end of Act 1.

Act 2

Once again, it is early morning—but raining this time. The Stage Manager announces three years have passed and it is now July 7, 1904; today George and Emily are getting married. In their respective kitchens Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb are bustling to get ready for guests. Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs fret about the young couple and reminisce about their own wedding morning. George Gibbs runs downstairs and out the door, planning to visit Emily next door.

At the Webbs' house, Emily's mother invites George in but refuses to let him see Emily. George and Mr. Webb converse awkwardly about wedding superstitions until Mrs. Webb sends a downhearted George home. The Webbs exit, and the scene shifts to the previous year when Emily and George—both juniors in high school—have their own awkward conversation as they walk home from school. Hoping to smooth things over, George invites Emily for an ice-cream soda at the drugstore. As they continue their conversation, the two realize they're in love.

The flashback ends, and the scene shifts to the church where the wedding will be held. As with the drugstore scene, the staging is minimal and all props are imaginary. The Stage Manager announces the play is about to "get[s] pretty serious" and proves it by delivering a short sermon on marriage, nature, "the real hero of this scene," and the millions of ancestors who are witnesses at this wedding.

Minutes before the wedding begins, both Emily and George are overcome with anxiety. George begs his mother to get him out of this; Emily begs her father to take her away somewhere. The parents manage to soothe the nervous couple, and the wedding proceeds, with the Stage Manager acting the part of the minister. The loud, enthusiastic chatter of Mrs. Soames drowns out most of the ceremony, but as Emily and George kiss, the action suddenly freezes.

The Stage Manager muses about the number of weddings he's performed, saying, "once in a thousand times it's interesting." The Wedding March begins to play, the newlyweds run offstage, and the Stage Manager announces the end of the act.

Act 3

During the intermission stagehands arrange about a dozen chairs in three rows to represent graves in the cemetery. The actors playing the dead enter and take their places, but one chair remains empty.

The Stage Manager tells the audience it's now the summer of 1913. He points out several imaginary landmarks and describes the cemetery, ending with the new section where Mrs. Gibbs, Mr. Stimson, Mrs. Soames, and Wally Webb—among other dead—are seated. The dead, he says, are "waitin' for something that they feel is comin'. Something important, and great."

Sam Craig, Emily's cousin by marriage, wanders into the cemetery and is shown around by undertaker Joe Stoddard. As they talk, it becomes clear today's funeral is for Emily, who has died in childbirth along with the baby.

The funeral procession enters and gathers around an imaginary grave in the back center of the stage. The dead residents of the cemetery reminisce about Emily as the service proceeds. Then, suddenly, Emily herself appears. Looking dazed, she takes her place in the vacant chair and tries to make conversation, but she is unable to settle into her new role. Although both the Stage Manager and the other dead souls try to dissuade her, Emily decides she earnestly wishes to return to her past.

The Stage Manager transports Emily to the morning of her 12th birthday. Emily must participate in the action as well as observe it from beyond the grave, and the process undoes her. Now she is able to recognize what no living person can: the speed of life's passage and the achingly beautiful meaning in every detail. Distraught, Emily begs to go back to her grave. As she tries to calm herself, George returns to the cemetery to lie at the foot of her grave. The stars begin to emerge, and the dead souls make casual conversation about them. The Stage Manager bids the audience goodnight and pulls a curtain across the stage, ending the play.

Our Town Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 The Stage Manager introduces Grover's Corners.

Rising Action

2 The Gibbs and Webb families are introduced.

3 Emily and George have their first "boy-girl" conversation.

4 George visits Emily's house on the morning of their wedding.

5 Story flashes back to the day Emily and George fall in love.

6 Emily and George are married.

7 After dying, Emily begs for one more visit to her old life.

8 Emily reenters the world on her 12th birthday.


9 Emily breaks down, unable to bear being among the living.

Falling Action

10 Emily returns to her grave.

11 Emily's dead companions try to comfort her.


12 George visits Emily's grave; Stage Manager says goodnight.

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