Free Study Guide for Our Town by Thornton Wilder-Book Summary |
The funeral service that has been going on finally comes to an end, and the procession leaves the cemetery. Emily decides that she will revisit the world of the living and survey the life she had lived on earth. Mrs. Gibbs warns her against it, and the other spirits join in trying to dissuade her. She, however, will not change her mind. She decides that she will go back and relive her twelfth birthday. The Stage Manager correctly states that going back into the world will surely disappoint Emily.
Act III is slightly different from the earlier acts in method. In Act I and Act II, the Stage Manager supplied the background information, but in this section, minor characters give important descriptions. The section opens in the cemetery with a new grave being prepared. Appropriately, the weather is rainy and gloomy. Joe Stoddard, the undertaker working on the preparation of Emily’s grave, describes the town and its inhabitants to Sam Craig, Emily’s cousin by marriage. Through the conversation of the two men, the audience learns about Mrs. Gibbs' death, Simon Stimson’s suicide, and Emily’s death during childbirth.
Like in earlier scenes, this section focuses simultaneously on two disparate things. This time it is the world of the living and the world of the dead. The funeral procession unsettles the spirits in the graveyard. They are uncomfortable when the living are close at hand, for they have tried to put behind their earthly ties. When they see the living, however, they think about life. Mrs. Soames says that it was both terrible and wonderful. Stimson disagrees, thinking it was all horrible; it is not a surprising attitude from a man who was an alcoholic and committed suicide.
Except in the presence of the living, death has liberated the spirits from the turmoil and suffering of life. It is ironic that the “coffined” ones have been set free, while the living ones seem to be “shut up in little boxes,” blind to the beauty of their existence and incarcerated by the narrowness of their vision. This is exactly what Emily will discover when she revisits her home.
As the citizens of Grover’s Corners attend Emily’s funeral, she leaves the world of the living behind to join the spirit world. Dressed in white and sporting a ribbon in her hair, she does not look any older than she did at her wedding in Act II. Her youthful appearance adds to the tragedy of her death. Because she is a newcomer to the spirit world, she is restless and uneasy. She still clings to her human memories and longs to be a part of life. She tries to talk to Mrs. Gibbs about the farm that she and George purchased, but her mother-in-law has no interest. When she talks about her four-year-old son to Mr. Carter, he is equally disinterested. Emily cannot understand, for all of her attention is still focused on those people back home. She decides she cannot stand it and must go back for a visit. Mrs. Gibbs and all the other spirits try to convince her not to go; they say that the dead must forget the past. But Emily is insistent. Mrs. Gibbs tells her it will be best to select an unimportant day for her visit. She chooses her twelfth birthday as the day she will relive. The Stage Manager comments that she is sure to be disappointed in what she sees, for her visit will allow her to see the present and the past and will lay bare the dismal picture of humans living mechanically without appreciating life and all its wonders.
Wilder does many things in Act III to unify it to the two earlier acts. First and foremost, he keeps the attention of the audience focused on Emily, the most important character of the play. It is her funeral that is being shown on stage. Additionally, he has her dressed in white with her hair pulled back in youthfulness. It is a clear and intentional reflection of Emily as the bride in Act II. Mrs. Soames also helps to unify the play. Still the romantic at heart, she thinks back to Emily’s lovely wedding in Act II. In his simplicity of his play, Wilder is weaving a classic masterpiece.
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TheBestNotes.com Staff. "TheBestNotes on Our Town".
. 09 May 2017