Our Town by Thornton Wilder

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Thornton Wilder’s sparse and simple play Our Town was first produced during the Great Depression (1938). In a set without any scenery beyond chairs and tables and in three short acts, Thornton Wilder creates an intimacy with the characters. This is probably due to the familiarity of the subject: life, love, and death in a small town. As an audience participant (or, in my case, a reader), I felt I became a part of the small town’s happenings, and the encouragement to enjoy the simplicity of life, the magic of love, and the reality of challenges becomes a poignant emotional journey.

The first act is simple in its depiction of a simple morning in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Children get up and go to school, a doctor goes to work, and the newspaper man searches for new headlines that will get people gossiping. They are a small, tight-knit community and the characters are very honest about their lives.

We’re all hunting like everybody else for a way the diligent and sensible can rise to the top and the lazy and quarrelsome can sink to the bottom. But it ain’t easy to find. Meanwhile, we do all we can to help those that can’t help themselves and those that can we leave alone. (Mr. Webb, Act I)

Mr. Webb, just like many of the other characters in the play, is breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience. In fact, the largest speaking part in the play is the Stage Manager, who introduces characters throughout the play. Our Town is very much like a report on small town life.

I hope that doesn’t make it sound dull, for it is not. It’s familiar, and that makes it a play that I think many can relate to. I don’t think I’d like to live in Grover’s Corners: it’s the kind of town that would make me feel stifled. I like my privacy. And yet, I still loved becoming a part of the community Our Town portrayed.

For me, Act II’s focus on love and marriage was the least strong. I thought it had some good quotes, and I would have to agree to the importance of relationships to our everyday lives.

You’ve got to love life to have life, and you’ve got to have life to love life. … It’s what they call a vicious circle. (Stage Manager, Act II)

My favorite parts came in Act III. Because I don’t want to spoil the best parts for you, I’ll leave you with just one more quote, this from Emily in Act III.

Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. … Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? — every, every minute?

I love it. Apparently they loved it when it first came out too. Our Town won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1938.

Remember how I told you I got a copy at a Borders’ close out sale? Here’s one of those “oops” moments, because I found I already had a copy of it – a mass market paperback edition. I’d like to pass along the mass market paperback – it’s in great shape, just a little shelf wear.

If you want to be entered for the drawing, please fill out this form. You’ll note I ask for a recommendation for another play to read. Please share your thoughts – if you haven’t seen or read any, simply say so. This giveaway is open to anywhere I can ship. I’ll choose a winner this weekend.

Giveaway over.

Note: I read the HarperPerennial Modern Classics edition, 2003, which I own.

Reviewed on June 7, 2011

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • My two older daughters saw this play in Chicago two years ago when David Schwimmer produced and starred in it. They loved the up close and personal theater atmosphere. Molly’s H.S. teacher also told her it was his favorite play.
    Sorry I don’t have a play to recommend, even though I love plays immensely. I like to see them, in fact I don’t know that I’ve ever read a play. Oh wait – Romeo and Juliet. There – thats my recommendation. hahhaha

  • I love Our Town! I had to read it for tenth grade English and absolutely adored it. My English teacher was amazed, he said he’d never had a student actually love this play haha.

  • I grew up in a small town in Connecticut, and had the quintessential New England theater experience of being in a production of Our Town. (I was the Professor. Those lines were hard. ;)) I still have my copy of the play with all the stage notes, etc., and it always makes me feel like I’m home again when I look at it, if that makes sense.

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