SINCE 1949!





Our Town

By Thornton Wilder

Come and explore the quaint New

Hampshire town of Grover’s Corner, where

it can appear that little happens, but every

moment is filled with greatness. Celebrate

life and love in this cherished American
















Thornton Niven Wilder was born on April 17, 1897 in Madison, Wisconsin.

His parents, Amos Parker Wilder and Isabella Thornton Wilder, were

wealthy and conservative. They imparted to Thornton deep moral and

religious values. Thornton spent much of his childhood in Hong Kong, for

in 1906 his father was appointed America’s

Consulate General there. In Hong Kong, he

attended Chinese missionary schools and

received a good education. After high school

graduation, he attended Oberlin College for two

years and went on to graduate from Yale

University in 1920, where he received a degree

in classical literature with honors. While

pursuing an advanced degree at Princeton

University, Wilder taught at Lawrenceville School, where he remained on

staff from 1921 until 1928. He received his master’s degree in English in

1926 and then went on to study archeology at the American Academy in

Rome.  During his student years, Wilder also began to write. He published

his first novel, The Cabala, in 1926. He also wrote a play entitled The

Trumpet Shall Sound.


After graduating from Princeton, Wilder’s literary

career began in earnest. He published The Bridge of

San Luis Rey in 1927; it became a landmark

American novel and brought Wilder popular success.

It also won him his first Pulitzer Prize. He then turned

his attention to drama and published The Angel that

Troubled the Waters in 1928. In 1930, he became a

faculty member at the University of Chicago. In the

same year, he also published his next novel, The

Woman of Andros, and dabbled in scriptwriting for

motion pictures.  His next novel, Heaven's My Destination, was published

in 1935. Wilder then turned his full attention to drama, for which he is now

best remembered. He produced Our Town in 1938 and The Skin of Our

Teeth in 1942. He won another Pulitzer Prize for the two of them.


When the United States joined World War II, Wilder enlisted and served in

Europe. For his outstanding military efforts, he received the Legion of

Merit, the Bronze Star, and the Legion d’Honneur; he was also given

honorary membership in the Order of the British Empire for his wartime

contributions. After the war, Wilder returned to writing and teaching.


In 1948, Wilder published a novel, The Ides of March, about Julius

Caesar. Between 1950 and 1951, he delivered the Charles Eliot Norton

Lectures in poetry at Harvard. In 1952 he became the chief of the

American delegation to the UNESCO Conference of Arts in Venice, Italy. In

1954, he produced the play entitled The Matchmaker, followed by A Life in the Sun in 1955. In 1962, he retired to a small town in Arizona to nurse his frail health. He continued his writing career there and produced two

plays in 1964: The Seven Deadly Sins and The Seven Ages of Man. In

1968, he produced Eighth Day, for which he won a National Medal for

Literature.  Wilder published his last novel, Theophilus North, in 1973. He

passed away in 1975 in Hamden, Connecticut, where he had been staying

with his sister, Isabel Wilder.


Besides winning several Pulitzer Prizes for Literature, Wilder received

many other accolades in his lifetime.  In 1963, he received a Presidential

Medal. He was also conferred honorary degrees from New York

University, Yale University, Kenyon College, College of Wooster, Harvard

University, Northeastern University, Oberlin College, University of

Hampshire, and University of Zurich.
















Notes from the Playwright


Every action which has ever taken place—every thought, every emotion--

has taken place only once, at one moment in time and place.  “I love you,”

“I rejoice,” “I suffer,” have been said and felt many billions of times, and

never twice the same.  Every person who has ever lived has lived an

unbroken succession of unique occasions.  Yet the more one is aware of

this individuality in experience (innumerable! innumerable!) the more one

becomes attentive to what these disparate moments have in common, to

repetitive patterns.  As an artist (or listener or beholder) which ‘truth” do

you prefer—that of the isolated occasion, or that which includes . . . the

innumerable?  Which truth is more worth telling? . . . The theatre is

admirably fitted to tell both truths. It has one foot planted firmly in the

particular, since each actor before us (even when he wears a mask!) is

indubitably a living, breathing “one”; yet it [also] tends and strains to

exhibit a general truth since its relation to a specific “realistic” truth is

confused and undermined by the fact that it is an accumulation of untruths,

pretenses and fiction. 


Our Town is not  . . . a picture of life in a New Hampshire village; or a

speculation about the conditions of life after death . . . .  It is an attempt to

find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life. . . . I

have set the village against the largest dimensions of time and place.  The

recurrent words in this play are “hundreds,” “thousands,” and “millions.” 

Emily’s joys and griefs, her algebra lessons and her birthday presents--

what are they when we consider all the billions of girls who have lived,

who are living and who will live?  Each individual’s assertion to an

absolute reality can only be inner, very inner. . . .  Our claim, our hope, our

despair are in the mind—not in things, not in “scenery.”  Molière said that

for the theatre all he needed was a platform and a passion or two.  The

climax of this play needs only five square feet and the passion to know

what life means to us.


-- Thornton Wilder, 1957

From the “Preface” to Three Plays

published by Harper and Row





Our Town, which came to be heralded as a Poetic Chronicle of Life and

Death, was Wilder’s first major play and the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for

literature. The first performance of the play took place at the McCarter

Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, on January 22, 1938; it then moved on

to play in Boston and New York, where it met with tremendous success.

Audiences felt that there was something very human and universal about

Grover’s Corners; everyone could identify with someone in this small town.


Wilder’s passionate plea in the play is to appreciate every

moment of every day, for life is a fleeting thing. With troubles

rapidly expanding in Europe and war becoming a looming

reality, people were inundated with the negative aspects of life.

To see Our Town was to escape from the negative and rejoice

in the ordinary; it reaffirmed faith in the unchanging moral

values of small town living. It was obviously the balm that audiences

needed in the midst of a pessimistic and changing world.





Act I, "Daily Life" creates the picture of ordinary people engrossed in their

daily routine against the backdrop of Grover’s Corners, a small New

Hampshire Town. The Stage Manager describes the setting and

introduces the audience to the Webbs and Gibbs, the families that are the

main characters of the play. After the introduction, Howie Newsome, the

milkman, and Joe Crowell Jr., the paperboy, arrive on their daily errands.

Doctor Gibbs comes on stage; he is returning from Polish town, where he

has delivered twins to Mrs. Goruslawski.


Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb are busy getting their children ready. After they

depart for school, the mothers visit with each other. The day then passes

in ordinary activity. When school is out, Emily and George walk towards

home together. Emily agrees to help him with his homework. As the couple

moves off stage, the Stage Manager returns and gives some additional

background information about the town. Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs are

then seen returning from choir rehearsal at the church; they gossip about

Simon Stimson, the church organist who drinks too much. As the people of

Grover’s Corners prepare for bed, Constable Warren patrols the town.

The Stage Manager enters to announce the end of Act I.


Act II opens with a monologue from the Stage

Manager. He informs the audience that the play

is moving forward three years in time; he also

tells that the act is titled “Love and Marriage.”

Emily and George, who have been sweethearts

for many years, are engaged; their families are

eagerly preparing for the wedding.  Mrs. Gibbs is

worried about her son, but her husband tries to

allay her fears. George goes to Emily’s house but is prohibited from

entering by his future mother-in-law; she claims that it is bad luck for the

groom to see the bride on the day of the wedding.


The Stage Manager comes forward to reveal how Emily and George

became a couple. One day on the way home from school, Emily upbraids

him for being so into baseball that he neglects his family and friends.

George readily admits that he has allowed baseball to become more

important than many things, but not more important than she. Emily is

overwhelmed at his admission, and before long they profess their love for

another other. The Stage Manager then announces that he is to play the

role of a minister for the wedding.  He goes on to philosophize about



Before the wedding, Mrs. Webb is sad, for she feels like she is losing her

daughter; she is also worried because she feels Emily is ignorant about

the facts of life. During the ceremony, George and Emily are obviously

nervous, but they manage to both say, “I do.” Mrs. Soames, a guest at the

wedding, continuously gushes about this being the loveliest wedding she

has ever attended.


At the opening of the third act, entitled “Death,” nine years have passed.

The setting is a cemetery, and many of the characters seen previously in

the play are among the dead, who now roam the stage as spirits.  Emily is

among them; she has just passed away during the birth of her second

child and was been tearfully laid to rest by her family and friends. As a

newcomer to the spirit world, she is uneasy and restless. She expresses

her strong desire to go to earth again and relive her past -- at least for a

single day. The other spirits try to dissuade her, but she persists. When

she is allowed to choose one day to revisit, Emily picks her twelfth



Emily’s return to earth disillusions her; she is amazed to realize that human

beings do not appreciate life; they seem to take everything for granted.

Unable to endure the agony of the truth, Emily sadly returns to her grave

before the end of the day. When her husband visits her grave that night to

shed tears of grief, Emily realizes that George, like all humans, does not

understand the truth about death – or life. The play ends with the Stage

Manager appearing for the final time to bid farewell to the audience.




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Last modified: 03/23/06