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

 

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ONLINE NOTES FOR OUR TOWN BY THORNTON WILDER


ACT II, SECTION 4


Summary

The Stage Manager claps his hands to signal the end of the flashback; he then zooms back to the wedding day of George and Emily. In order to create the feel of a church, he alters the stage props and announces he will serve as the minister

during the wedding. He then watches as the guests begin to take their seats in the pews. Finally, he seizes the opportunity to comment about life and marriage. He states that people are meant to live “two by two,” verifying what Mrs. Gibbs has observed earlier in the act. He also adds that children come from marriages and that “every child born into the world is nature’s attempt to make a perfect human being.” These words are a flashback to Emily’s desire to find a perfect man for a husband.

Attention is turned to Mrs. Webb, who seems rather nervous and upset. She has been crying since morning, sad that her only daughter is leaving home. She is also worried that Emily does not know enough about life, men, or marriage. Since she has not told her daughter about the facts of life, she hopes that maybe some of her friends have prepared her. Attention is then turned to George. Three of his baseball friends are teasing him about getting married and losing his innocence. The Stage Manager intervenes and cheerfully pushes the teasing boys off stage.

The choir starts singing, “Love divine, all love excelling.” George enters the church, stares at the congregation, and then withdraws. His mother, sensing his confusion, approaches him. George obviously has the pre-wedding jitters. He says that he does not want to get old and fears taking up the responsibilities that marriage entails. Mrs. Gibbs scolds him for shaming her and behaving in such an indecisive manner at the final moment. George manages to overcome his momentary bout of anxiety and tells his mother that things are going to be fine. He promises that he and Emily will come over to dinner every Thursday night.

The choir is now sings, “Blessed be the tie that binds.” Emily enters on stage in her white wedding gown. As she nears the congregation, she has her own moment of apprehension and calls for her father, who joins her. She tells him that she does not want to marry George; instead, she wants to go away with him. Mr. Webb calms her down by assuring her that George will take care of her. He then hands her to her future husband. George also assures his bride that he will always love and care for her.

The wedding march begins to play, signaling the start of the ceremony. The Stage Manager conducts the wedding service, binding Emily and George in the holy sacrament of marriage. As they say their vows, Mrs. Soames loudly proclaims that this is the loveliest wedding she has ever seen. The Stage Manager, as minister, comments that he has conducted over 200 weddings, each interesting and different in its own way; but a wedding is always followed by daily routine, which ends in death. He then orders the band to play as Emily and George turn toward the congregation. Mrs. Soames again expresses her happiness over the lovely wedding. She is sure that Emily and George will make a great married couple. She claims, “The important thing is to be happy.” As the bride and groom descend hand-in-hand from the stage into the auditorium, the Stage Manager formally announces the end of the act.



Notes

The Stage Manager announces he will play the role of minister for the wedding. He then apologizes to the audience that there is not time to have a detailed wedding scene and asks them to use their imagination to fill in the spaces. He also adds a few props to make the stage seem like a church for the audience. The technique is very similar to when he used a few props and a few words to describe the town of Gover’s Corners in Act I. In both instances, the people in the audience are expected to fill in the details from their own experience, making the play more universal.

Wilder is careful to present the wedding as normal and ordinary, just like any other small town ceremony. The minister states it is only one of hundreds that he has performed. The wedding, therefore, serves as an extension of the play’s theme that everything is ordinary and universal in Grover’s Corners. In his presentation of the marriage, he includes the nervous bride and groom, the worried parents, the teasing of the groom, the normal wedding music, the guests showering compliments, and the minister’s comments about life, love, and marriage.

The apprehension over marriage expressed by both George and Emily is not surprising. They are very young and terribly naïve. No wonder he worries about taking on the responsibilities of a wife and frets about growing old. After all, neither he nor Emily has lived away from the comforts and security of their family home. Additionally, Mrs. Webb admits that she has ill prepared her daughter for the surprises of marriage. Fortunately, parents come to the rescue one more time. Mrs. Gibbs tells George that she is ashamed of his cold feet at the last moment; and Mr. Webb assures Emily that George will be a good husband and provider and then hands her over to him.

Through the comments of the Stage Manager, Wilder again traces the circle of life that is a key theme of the entire play; people are born, develop a routine, grow up, marry, raise children, and die. He emphasizes that marriage is a key part of the divine pattern of living, again stating that “two by two” is the correct way of life; after marriage comes the predictable chain of events, including “the cottage, the go-cart, the Sunday afternoon drives in the Ford, the first rheumatism, the grandchildren, the second rheumatism, the deathbed, the reading of the will.” He also points out that from marriage come children, God’s attempt to make a perfect creation.

The act ends when the bride and groom walk hand-in-hand through the auditorium, and the Stage Manager announces it is time for the next intermission, bringing the audience back to the reality that they are watching a play. The ending is similar to the one in Act I. Once again the repetition emphasizes the theme of the common and ordinary; it also serves to unify the play.

 

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