Our Town By Thorton Wilder (1897 – 1975) Essay, Research Paper
Thornton Wilder’s Our Town provides the
audience with an informal, intimate and compelling human drama. Wilder
was dissatisfied with the unimaginative, stilted theatrical productions
of his time: “[They] aimed to be soothing. The tragic had no heat; the
comic had no bite; the social criticism failed to indict us with responsibility.”
Our Town, with its far-reaching theme and unmistakable symbolism, was a
far cry from the typical bland depression era play (though, ironically,
“the magic of the mundane” is the play’s major theme).
Though set during the early Twentieth Century,
Grover’s Corner is anyplace and all places, anytime and all times. A constantly
shifting verb tense throughout the play reveals that something strange
is happening here with time. Pantomime and conversation simultaneously
enact life’s continuum of time and place.
The principal actor is the Stage Manager,
who remains on stage the entire time explaining much of the action. He
is aware of the present, and privy to both the past and the future. He
knows the characters’ feelings, and alternately takes on the roles of narrator,
philosophical druggist, host, master of ceremonies, commentator and friend
to the audience.
Wilder creates types rather than individuals
in 0ur Town. Every audience member can say, “Yes, I know someone like that.
He’s just like so-and-so,” or “I know what he is feeling. I’ve felt that
way myself.” This sense of “recollection” permeates the play to both thrill
and haunt us with reminders of our common – and fragile – humanity- By
using the barest of scenery and props, Wilder reinforces that our hopes
and despairs and loves begin and end not with things, but in the mind and
the soul, as our lives unfold through one another. This focus on “absolute
reality” allows us to see Emily’s simplest pleasures and cares (algebra
lessons, birthday presents, etc.) through child-like eyes. Her timelessness
helps the audience understand, just as she herself comes to understand,
the seamless relationship between past, present and future. Her commonplace
experiences (marriage, family … ) contrast sharply with her death experience,
where she finally comes to appreciate the commonplace. The play motivates
the audience to treasure everyday life just as it is.