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Our Town | Study Guide

Thornton Wilder

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Our Town | Quotes


This play is called 'Our Town.'

Stage Manager, Act 1

With his first words, the Stage Manager makes it clear he knows he is part of a play, and he wants the audience to know he knows it. What's more, he's breaking the fourth wall—speaking directly to the audience rather than to another character in the play. Both of these facts unsettle a playgoer's normal expectations. Instead of settling in their seats, the audience is meant to stay alert, a little on edge—to think about why the play begins this way.


The morning star always gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to go—doesn't it?

Stage Manager, Act 1

Act 1 opens in the morning and will end at evening, as will Acts 2 and 3. The Stage Manager's mention of the morning star both establishes the strong influence of the cycles of nature in the play and links the universal—starlight—with the very specific details he is providing about Grover's Corners.


Oh, Mama, you never tell us the truth about anything.

Emily Webb Gibbs, Act 1

Emily has just asked Mrs. Webb if she's pretty. "Yes, of course you are. All my children have got good features," answers her mother. This answer doesn't (and shouldn't) satisfy Emily, who is fishing for more than the stock response any semi-distracted mother would make. The exchange is a sad foreshadowing of the final time Emily will see her mother in Act 3—and still be unable to communicate with her.


Some people ain't made for small-town life.

Dr. Gibbs, Act 1

The doctor is talking about Simon Stimson, the only truly unhappy person in the play. Something in Simon's past has turned him into a bitter alcoholic—a fact the townspeople tiptoe around. Dr. Gibbs may be the only person in town who knows the whole story about Simon, and he wishes Mrs. Gibbs and her friends wouldn't gossip about the poor man. But this is as far as his compassion goes; he knows little can be done to help Simon and that, realistically, Simon must initiate the change himself.


In this wedding I play the minister. That gives me the right to say ... more things about it.

Stage Manager, Act 2

Once more the Stage Manager is stepping out of his assigned role and purposely breaking the play's continuity. It's already been made clear the Stage Manager possesses certain almost godlike qualities. Here he is playing a religious authority—an overt reference to his semi-mythical nature. In Act 3 he will seem even more godlike when he sends Emily back to the land of the living.


I always expect a man to be perfect and I think he should be.

Emily Webb Gibbs, Act 2

This sweet, funny line reveals how young and inexperienced Emily is. She sounds even sillier when she goes on to say her father and George are both perfect and "there's no reason on earth why you shouldn't be, too." A second later she tells George it's harder for girls to be perfect "because we girls are more ... nervous," which is another immature remark. While the modern reader should make allowance for the fact Emily actually is nervous at that moment, it is striking, and poignant, that a girl this young is about to get engaged.


Perfectly lovely wedding! Loveliest wedding I ever saw. Oh, I do love a good wedding.

Mrs. Soames, Act 2

Mrs. Soames's babbling is almost like a slap in the face: it is so startlingly inappropriate—considering the emotional storm Emily and George have just passed through—that readers (or audience members) must remind themselves Mrs. Soames has no knowledge of the couple's pre-wedding jitters. For the audience the remark provides a note of comic relief after a wrenching scene, but it also reflects the human instinct to say and do trivial things, which may be considered appropriate given Mrs. Soames's archetypical role as bearer of the trivial.


We all know that something is eternal.

Stage Manager, Act 3

Even the Stage Manager, who can see the future, cannot explain the mystery of life after death. A few lines later he suggests the occupants of the cemetery are "waitin' for the eternal part in them to come out clear," but he is no more able to describe "the eternal part" than the dead souls who are waiting.

No one would say Our Town is a religious play, but it walks an interesting line between the secular and the spiritual. In Act 3 Wilder depicts an afterlife that is surprisingly dull. How could anyone blame Emily for missing her vibrant life on earth compared with this drab, placid eternity? Comparing death with life on earth, Mrs. Gibbs tells Emily, "When you've been here longer you'll see that our life here is to forget all that, and think only of what's ahead." Her words give no indication of whether "what's ahead" is heavenly or hellish, or something else entirely.


Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough.

Mrs. Gibbs, Act 3

These two lines could be said to sum up the whole play. In her plainspoken way Mrs. Gibbs is trying to explain to Emily even the most ordinary day on earth holds so much wonder that reliving it—and realizing it's gone forever—will bring unbearable pain.


Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me.

Emily Webb Gibbs, Act 3

Though she knows it is Emily's 12th birthday, Mrs. Webb is busy with breakfast chores as she speaks to her daughter. Observing this scene from beyond the grave, deceased Emily is struck with the fact that living people are incapable of fully appreciating others, even their loved ones. Their lives are so busy they are unable to take a moment to reflect.


Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?

Emily Webb Gibbs, Act 3

Through her tears, Emily asks this of the Stage Manager, who bluntly answers, "No." The reply is almost shocking in its pessimism. The Stage Manager cannot give the play a happy ending. There is no remedy for the fact that the beauty of human connection is forever obscured by the distractions of daily life. Those distractions themselves are priceless, though they never seem important enough for people to "realize" them.

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