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

 

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FREE BOOK NOTES FOR OUR TOWN BY THORNTON WILDER


ACT II, SECTION 1


Summary

The Stage Manager watches the people of the audience return to their seats after the intermission. He then announces the beginning of Act II and explains that the play has skipped ahead three years in time. The day is now July 7, 1904, just after high school graduation. The time is once again 5:45 in the morning; in the background can be heard the sounds of the train bound for Boston. The Stage Manager next informs the audience that the second act is entitled “Love and Marriage.” He then explains that in the last three years “a number of young people fell in love and got married. Almost everybody in the world gets married. Almost everybody in the world climbs into their graves married.” His words are intended to be a foreshadowing of the death of Emily in the last act.

Starting the day, Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb enter their kitchens at the same time, just as in Act I. The Stage Manager remarks in amazement that these two ladies have “cooked three meals a day one of ‘em for twenty years, the other for forty and no summer vacation. They have brought up two children apiece, washed and cleaned the house - and never a nervous breakdown.” The Stage Manager then says, “You’ve got to love life to have life and you’ve got to have life to love life,” quoting the poet, Edgar Lee Masters.


Notes

After the audience returns from intermission, the Stage Manager formally announces the beginning of Act II and explains that three years have passed since the last act. Significantly, this act, like the earlier one, begins at 5:45 a.m., and again the train bound for Boston can be heard. Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb come into their kitchens at the same time, also repeating the action seen in the first act. The repetition helps to mold the play into a unified whole. It also serves to emphasize the theme that things in Grover’s Corners are ordinary and repetitive.

The second act is entitled “Love and Marriage.” Since the beginning of the play, there have been multiple references to matrimony, all as preparation for the marriage of Emily and George. Joe Crowell, Jr. has complained that his teacher is getting married; Simon Stimson was preparing the choir for Fred Hersey’s wedding. The Stage Manager has mentioned that Mrs. Webb has been married for twenty years, and Mrs. Gibbs for forty. He also expresses his amazement that the two women have raised two children apiece, completed their many domestic chores, and never had a nervous breakdown.

The casual quoting of Edgar Lee Master’s line, “You’ve got to love life to have life,” is in direct support of the central theme in the play. Wilder believes that people must appreciate all aspects of life, from the profound to the simple; birth, family, friends, growth, marriage, death, work, school, chores, food, and a thousand other things are important to living.


ACT II, SECTION 2


Summary

As Howie Newsome delivers milk, he is joined by Si Crowell, Joe Crowell's younger brother. Si, who is now the paperboy, is concerned about the fact that Grover’s Corners is losing its best pitcher since George Gibbs is giving up baseball for matrimony. Constable Warren enters to check the drainpipes. Since it has been pouring rain all night, he fears a flood. Howie Newsome says that the sky will probably clear soon.

Constable Warren and Si Crowell depart, and Howie Newsome continues to deliver the milk. When he arrives at the Gibbs’ house, he finds Mrs. Gibbs by the trellis. She orders extra milk and some cream, for she expects to have visitors after the wedding. A similar order is placed by Mrs. Webb. Howie tells her that he and his wife are sure that Emily and George will make a fine couple and live happily.


Doc Gibbs enters and sits at the breakfast table. He teases his wife about “losin’ one of her chicks.” Mrs. Gibbs is on the verge of tears and expresses her apprehension about Emily and George being too young to handle matrimony. He reminds her that the two of them had their own fears about marriage. He was afraid that they would run out of conversation after few years; but they have had plenty to talk about during their happy married life. Mrs. Gibbs admits that the natural order of things seems to be “two by two.” George enters and jokes about having only five more hours of freedom before he becomes a married man. He starts outside to go and see his bride-to-be, but Mrs. Gibbs stops him and insists that he puts on his overshoes.

When George arrives at Emily’s house, Mrs. Webb will not at first let him inside. She insists that it will bring bad luck to the marriage if he sees his fiancée on her wedding day before she walks down the aisle. George turns to Mr. Webb and asks him if believes in such superstitions. With practicality, he replies that superstitions generally clothe a lot of common sense. When Mr. Webb engages his future son-in-law in a conversation about weddings, marriage, and life, Mrs. Webb goes upstairs to make certain that Emily does not come down.

As George talks to his future father-in-law, he says he wishes that weddings were not such public affairs. Mr. Webb explains that women like for everyone to see a man tie the knot. He then tells George that when he was getting married, his own father had given him advice about controlling his future wife. He adds that he never followed that advice and, therefore, has had a happy marriage. He advises George not to blindly follow the advice of others. Mrs. Webb returns to the room and asks George to leave so that Emily can come down for breakfast. Mr. Webb makes a joke by saying, “No bridegroom should see his father-in-law on the day of the wedding.”


Notes

This section begins to reveal some of the changes that have taken place in Grover’s Corners during the last three years. Si Crowell has replaced his brother, Joe, as the paperboy, and George Gibbs has given up baseball to marry Emily Webb. Some things, however, never change. Both the paper and the milk are still delivered to the houses. Mrs. Gibbs continues to be the worried, concerned mother as she busies herself making a special breakfast for a special day. She complains that George and Emily are really too young to take on the responsibilities of marriage, and she worries about “losing” a son. When George leaves to go across to the Webbs, she insists that he puts on his overshoes, as if he were still a young child. She states that he can do what he likes once he is married, but as long he is under her roof, she will make sure he lives wisely. Dr. Gibbs is much more pragmatic. He reminds his wife that they were also unprepared for matrimony, but they have had a happily married life together.

Because it is Emily and George’s wedding day, there is a sense of preparation and anticipation, especially amongst the women. Both Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb order extra milk and cream, certain that they will have an abundance of visitors. Mrs. Webb is in a panic when George shows up at her house. Revealing her superstitious ways, she insists that he cannot see the bride before she walks down the aisle. In contrast to his wife, Mr. Webb is calm and full of practical advice. He tells George that superstitions are usually based on common sense. He also indirectly tells George he must not try to control Emily once he is married to her; neither should he act blindly on the advice of others.

 

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