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Free Study Guide for Our Town by Thornton Wilder-Book Summary

 

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STUDY GUIDE FOR OUR TOWN


ACT I, SECTION 2


Summary

The second section of Act I again opens with the Stage Manger. He explains that since Grover’s Corners is a very small town, all of its inhabitants like to know all the facts about everybody else. As a result, he begins to give details about some of the citizens. He starts with a flashforward, stating that after Doc Gibbs’ death in 1930, the new hospital will be named after him. He adds that the doctor outlives his wife by a few years, for she dies of pneumonia. The Stage Manager then turns his attention to Joe Crowell, Jr., the paperboy. In another flashforward, the Stage Manager states that he is one of the smartest boys ever to graduate from high school in Grover’s Corners. He states that Joe will receive a scholarship to Massachusetts Tech.

Unfortunately, the talented boy’s education will not be used, for he will be killed in France during World War II. Howie Newsome, the milkman, enters along with his invisible horse and wagon; he has a short conversation with Doc Gibbs and learns that Mrs. Goruslawski has just delivered twins. Upon returning to his house, the doctor also informs his wife about the delivery. Mrs. Gibbs is pictured as an anxious, concerned mother and wife. She scolds her husband for having worked all night. She then screams to her children, George and Rebecca, to make haste, or they will be late for school. As she needles them, Rebecca complains to her mother about the blue gingham dress that her mother has ironed for her to wear to school. Mrs. Gibbs, however, insists that it looks nice on her and that she must wear it. Rebecca then complains that George is throwing soap at her. Mrs. Gibbs tells them to stop horsing around.

On another part of the stage, Mrs. Webb enters and calls her children, Wally and Emily, to come down for breakfast; they must hurry, or they will be late for school. When Wally studies at the breakfast table, Mrs. Webb reprimands him. Emily, remarks that she is the brightest girl in school and has a wonderful memory. Wally says she too is bright especially when she is looking at her stamp collection.

The action shifts back to the Gibbs’ house. George is complaining that he does not receive enough allowance. His mother promises that she will persuade his father to increase the amount. The school bell is then heard, and all the students rush towards class.

After waving goodbye to her two children, Mrs. Gibbs feeds the chickens with grain she has put in her apron. Mrs. Webb, who has been sitting on a bench and stringing beams, joins her neighbor. Mrs. Gibbs offers to help her string the beans; she also tells about a second-hand furniture dealer who has offered to pay three hundred and fifty dollars for Grandmother Wentworth’s highboy. Mrs. Gibbs dreams of using the money from the sale to go to Paris. She explains that “at least once in your life before you die, you ought to see a country where they don’t talk in English and don’t even want to.” Unfortunately, her husband is only interested in visiting Civil War battlefields.


Notes

The second section of Act I begins to reveal the simple, uneventful lives of the inhabitants of a small, ordinary town. It is appropriately called “Daily Routine.” The Stage Manager begins the section by describing how all the houses look alike in Grover’s Corners. The action also reveals that the people act alike. The morning routine in the Gibbs’ house is very much like the routine in the Webbs’ house. Joe Crowell’s paper route is as routine as Howie Newsome’s delivery of the milk; one delivers the paper to sustain the mind, while the other delivers milk to sustain the body. Life, however, seems very ordinary and predictable. Ironically, it is the commonness of the town and its inhabitants that makes the play uncommon and important.

Birth, marriage, and death are the key events of human life in any environment. It is appropriate that in this first act, birth is mentioned several times. Doc Gibbs explains the delivery of the twin babies to Howie Newsome and then to his wife. The act also begins at dawn, the birth of a new day. The next act will be called “Love and Marriage,” and the last act is entitled “Death.” Death is also discussed in this section. In a flashforward, the omniscient Stage Manager reveals that Joe Crowell will be killed in France during World War I and that Mrs. Gibbs will die of pneumonia several years before her husband passes away.

Although the inhabitants of Grover’s Corners seem to accept the dull routine of their lives, Mrs. Gibbs reveals that she dreams of seeing the world. She tells Mrs. Webb about how she wants to sell an antique piece of furniture and use the money to travel to Paris. Of course her dreams, like most of those in Grover’s Corners, will never materialize; her husband will only visit Civil War battlefields on his vacations. Again, the dull routine and repetitious patterns are emphasized.

The sparseness of scenery and stage props contributes to the ordinariness of life in this small town. As the Stage Manager describes the places of Grover’s Corners, he makes them all seem the same. The train station is like every other train station, and all the houses look alike. The actions of the characters, such as arguing about what to wear, discussing allowances, feeding the chickens, and stringing beans, are also very dull and routine. But underneath the commonplace portrayed on stage is a true human support system that should not be missed. Mothers worry about their children being prompt, but take the time to assure them that they look lovely or deserve larger allowances. Friends take the time to stop and have a conversation, as seen when Dr. Gibbs talks with Howie Newsome. Neighbors find the time to help each other with the chores and listen to each other’s dreams. It may be a dull, boring town, but it is filled with caring people who take the beauty of their lives for granted.

It is significant to note the omnipresence of the Stage Manager during the play. He often interrupts the action to shed some important light on the characters or the action. At other times, he seems to interrupt for almost no reason. In this section, he stops the action to give an aside in which he states that the factory in Grover’s Corners manufactures blankets.

 

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