Free Study Guide for Our Town by Thornton Wilder-Book Summary
Previous Page | Table
of Contents | Next Page
Downloadable / Printable Version
Emily Webb (Mrs. George
Emily is the main character of the play whose life and death
is followed throughout all three acts. At the beginning of the play, she is a
bright young student who is careful to excel in all that she does. She makes very
good grades and has been elected as the secretary/treasurer for her senior class
in high school. She is also very aware of her abilities. Without conceit, she
admits, “I’m the brightest girl in school for my age. I have a wonderful memory.”
It is also obvious that Emily is a popular girl. George complains during the play
that she is always busy and surrounded by friends.
As a sixteen-year-old
girl, Emily has become interested in boys. When George approaches her and asks
to carry her books, she is thrilled. She also eagerly agrees to help him with
his algebra homework and to have a soda with him. Additionally, she uses the opportunity
to scold him for not paying his friends more attention; of course, she is really
concerned about him not paying her attention. Because of her interest in
boys, Emily is also very conscious of her appearance. She asks her mother if she
is pretty and complains about having to wear a plain blue dress to school. Another
time she tries to walk as if she were an elegant lady.
Several times during
the play, Emily is prone to romanticism. She tells George that she expects her
man to be perfect, and then tells him that he could reach perfection. She also
enjoys nature, taking time to smell the heliotrope and gaze at the moonlight.
Her dreamy ways, however, do not get in the way of her being practical and helpful.
She boldly tells George that he has been acting in a conceited way, hoping to
change him. She also willingly helps her mother and is seen stringing beans with
It is not surprising that Emily chooses to marry George. She has
grown up with him and always been attracted to him. On her
however, she is very nervous and unsure of her decision. Her mother admits that
she is probably too young for matrimony and really knows little about life. Mrs.
Webb hopes that some of Emily’s friends have told her what is in store for her
In the last act of the play, it is Emily who teaches the
audience the theme of the drama. Dying during the birth of her second child, Emily
is too young and unprepared to face or accept death. Unlike the older spirits
who have embraced the peace of death, she longs to return to earth and the familiar
things in Grover’s Corners; she misses her husband and her four-year-old son.
As a result, she decides she will go back to her hometown; she chooses to relive
her twelfth birthday. The journey back is a horrible mistake. As she watches herself
as a twelve-year-old girl, she realizes how she and her family had no appreciation
of life. They took everything for granted. Disillusioned by this callous disregard
for the wonders of living, Emily bids farewell to Grover’s Corners to return to
the peace of her grave. In the process, she teaches the audience to appreciate
everything in life - the ticking of a clock, the smell of a sunflower, the wonder
of a mother’s love, and a thousand other little things taken for granted each
George Gibbs is the high school
hero of Grover’s Corners; he is the champion pitcher of the baseball team and
president of his senior class. Unfortunately, his successes go to his head. He
begins to act in a conceited way and ignores his family and friends for baseball.
It is Emily Webb, his neighbor and future wife, who makes him see the errors of
In many ways, George is a typical teenage boy. He does not like
to help with the chores around the house and often lets his mother do things that
he should be doing. He finds school hard and constantly asks Emily, the brightest
girl in class, for help on his homework, especially in algebra. He fights with
his younger sister, even throwing soap at her. He is a bit disorganized, ordering
sodas for Emily and himself and then realizing he has no money to pay for them.
He is also worried about his limited funds and begs his mother to talk to his
dad about increasing his allowance from a quarter a week to fifty cents a week.
He also has a developing interest in girls, especially Emily Webb. In the first
act, he carries her books home, buys her a soda, and tells her he loves her.
Like Emily, George is sometimes a dreamer. He wants to be a farmer and believes
if he goes and works for his Uncle Luke, a farmer, instead of going to college,
he will some day inherit the farm and be successful. Also like Emily, he is very
nervous on the day of his marriage. He is not sure that he is ready to accept
the responsibilities of being a husband and worries that he is growing old. His
mother, Mrs. Gibbs, tells him that she is ashamed of his last minute change of
heart; her scolding is enough to make George realize that he only has the last
In the last act, George is only seen once; but Emily clearly
indicates that he has been a good husband, father, and farmer. One of the most
touching moments in the entire play is when he comes to her grave on the night
of her funeral. Stricken with grief over the loss of his wife, he throws himself
on the grave and weeps. Emily, who has revisited earth and returned to the cemetery,
can only exclaim that George understands so little about death or life.
The Stage Manager
The Stage Manager is an unusual creation
in Wilder’s play; he serves as the narrator, the master of ceremonies, a choric
voice, and a character playing various roles. His omnipresence throughout helps
to unify this unique drama.
At the beginning of the play, the Stage Manager
is assigned the task of ridiculing typical theatrical conventions. He keeps reminding
the audience that they are in a real theater watching a fictitious drama. He also
adds some scenery and props to the barren stage for those in the audience who
feel that they need some. In talking directly to the audience about what he thinks
and what he is doing, he establishes a rapport, much like a Greek chorus in classical
drama. He also disseminates a great deal of background information for the play.
The Stage Manager defines the setting of the town, giving details about
the appearance of Grover’s Corners. He also introduces characters and tells a
little bit about them. At times he even tells what is to happen to the characters
in the future, seemingly unbound by time or space. For instance, during the play
he points at Doc Gibbs and says he will die in 1930; he adds that a hospital will
be constructed in his memory. In addition to giving flashforwards, the Stage Manager
also gives numerous flashbacks. He is the one that narrates the tale of how George
and Emily became a couple.
In Act II, the Stage Manager becomes a philosopher.
He comments on the action that takes place on the stage and gives his opinions
about life and death, which are really those of Thornton Wilder. He also plays
the roles of Mr. Morgan, the pharmacist, and the minister at the wedding. In Act
III, the Stage Manager becomes increasingly vocal about his ideas, often answering
the questions posed to him by characters in the play. He also cautions Emily about
going back to earth and states that she is sure to be disillusioned. When she
is ready to return to the land of the dead, she turns to the Stage Manager and
asks him to take her back to the hill. From the beginning of the play to the very
end, the Stage Manager steers the direction of the drama, interacts with the characters,
plays various roles, and guides the audience to a better understanding of the
theme. Most importantly, he holds the play together by his omnipresence.
The Mothers (Mrs. Myrtle Webb and Mrs. Julia Gibbs)
of George and Emily are neighbors and best friends. They are also cast as character
types. They are typical wives and mothers, fretting over domestic trifles, concerned
about the well-being of their children, and caring for their husbands. Since their
entire lives revolve around their families, their daily routines are much the
same. They awaken early to prepare breakfast and get the children off to school.
During the day, they shop, cook, and clean; sometimes they find time to visit
with a friend, but they often share practical advice or continue to work during
the visit. The Stage Manager is amazed at the stamina of these women. He remarks
that they have “cooked three meals a day-one of ‘em for twenty years, the other
for forty...brought up two children apiece, washed, cleaned the house, -- and
never had a nervous break down.”
In spite of the concern that they show
for their children, Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs do have an outside life. They both
sing in the church choir and fret about Stimson’s alcoholism. Additionally, Mrs.
Gibbs dreams of traveling to Paris, France, even though she realizes it will never
happen. Both mothers admit that they have done a poor job of preparing Emily and
George for matrimony. As devoted mothers, they do too much for their children.
Mrs. Gibbs agrees to approach her husband about giving George an increase in allowance
instead of making him do it himself; she also tells him he must put on his overshoes
the day of the wedding before he can go outside. In a similar vein, Mrs. Webb
chooses the dress that Emily will wear to school, and when she objects, she insists
that Emily wear it any way. When Mr. Webb sees his daughter peering out the window
late one night, he warns her that her mother had better not catch her up so late
on a school night. It is no wonder that these two mothers worry that neither George
nor Emily is ready for the responsibility of being a spouse.
Fathers (Editor Webb and Dr. Frank Gibbs)
The fathers of George
and Emily are small town professionals, intelligent and dedicated to their work;
they are often seen during the play talking about their jobs. In the first act,
Doc Gibbs talks about delivering the Goruslawski twins; he is also seen fretting
about Stimson’s alcoholism, Joe Crowell’s knee, and Mrs. Wentworth’s stomach ailment.
Editor Webb is called upon to give a social and political account of Grover’s
Corners; after giving an excellent, detailed report, he agrees to answer questions
from the audience. Obviously, both men are quite sure of themselves and their
Doc Gibbs and Editor Webb are both devoted fathers, concerned
about bringing up their children correctly, and good husbands, who provide for
their wives. Doc Gibbs tells George that he must do more to help his mother with
her daily chores if he is to receive more allowance. In addition, he reminisces
with his wife about what they were like when they first married and admits he
was afraid that they would run out of things to talk about. Editor Webb worries
about his daughter staying up late and being too romantic. He also talks to the
constable about keeping an eye on his son to make sure he stays out of trouble.
In the end, both fathers are pleased that their children are marrying one another.
Mr. Webb assures Emily, when she has cold feet about the wedding, that George
will make a wonderful husband and be a good provider and father.
Previous Page | Table
of Contents | Next Page
Downloadable / Printable Version
Town by Thornton Wilder Study Guide-Free BookNotes Plot Summary