Analysis Of The Main Themes In The Play Our Town

Our Town is a play that was first published in 1938, set in the early 1900s in Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire. It is centered around a small town of people who are very old-fashioned and set in their ways, going through life without appreciating it. Despite being written nearly 80 years ago, there are strong themes of impermanence and companionship running throughout the play that continue to be appreciated and understood to each generation and audience that experiences it either through a reading or a viewing.

Starting with the lesser of the two critical themes, one can see the importance of companionship throughout the play’s entirety, especially in Emily and George, but also in their parents and the community around them. As Mrs. Webb says in Act 2, “people are meant to go through life two-by-two”, meaning that people are naturally meant to find a companion to spend their life with. Mr. and Mrs. Webb have been married for 20 years at this point and a very heartwarming moment between them is seen when Mr. Webb, around a mouthful of breakfast, tells his wife, “I was afraid we wouldn't have material for conversation more than’d last us a few weeks” and then continues to explain that it was quite the opposite and, even if they weren’t always pleased with each other every day, they still held constant conversation and were steady companions. This is also true with the Gibbs’, who have been married for twice as long and are still content keeping each other company as they go through life.

With Emily and George, this point is made during the parlor scene as the couple confesses their mutual feelings and George decides to forgo agriculture school in order to stay with Emily, explaining, “once you’ve found a person you’re fond of… well I think that’s just as important as college is”. This a key point in addressing and solidifying the theme of companionship, showing just how much it means, not only to the citizens of Grover’s Corner, but to each and every person walking this earth. One place where this theme is severely lacking, however, is with the case of Simon Stimson. Simon has earned the place of town drunkard, although his “condition” and the reason for it is rarely directly discussed (aside from the narrator mentioning he's seen 'a peck of troubles') and the community members appear to be keener on gossiping about his habits than trying to understand or help him. Though he is married, we never see him interact with his wife and he very rarely has conversations with any of the other townspeople, only scolding them during choir rehearsals or stumbling into them late at night when he is drunk. He has a complete disconnect from the rest of the town and, after his main scene as the choir organist and his drunkenness later that night, he appears again only in Act Three, where the readers learn that he hung himself. Though he had a romantic companion by marriage, Simon truly had no one and came to an end that is unimaginable to most people. His character, along with his life and death, go to show how crucial true human connection is.

The second theme, which is much more recognizable and overarching, is that of human life and how fleeting it is. Act One goes over miniscule, seemingly unnecessary details of the lives of the Webb family, the Gibbs family, and the other townspeople, which seems excessive and unimportant at the time. It is only truly in Act Three do we see come to understand that each detail was absolutely crucial to the story and how it develops the plot, particularly when Emily decides to leave the graveyard and re-“live” her 12th birthday. As she watches herself and her family go through the day, she grows upset at how they don’t appreciate life more and how they rush through the things in life that she has already come to miss and long for. Returning to the graveyard isn’t any better, as all of the citizens have died are somber and accepting of this lesson that was taught to all of them as well. Mrs. Gibb explains to her that she cannot change how the living townspeople go through their lives, nor can she continue to watch everyone neglect the small, but powerful parts of life and, though some of the citizens of the graveyard (such as Simon) are more cynical about life and death, Mrs. Gibb tries to console Emily by noticing the smaller things, such as when she points out a particular star in the sky. Throughout this scene, each detail from Act One, Daily Life comes flooding back and we take this moment to reflect within ourselves about each moment we pass by and the tiny details of our own lives that are often forgotten. 

Our Town draws each new audience member in and teaches them hard-earned lessons of companionship and thoughtfulness. It allows the readers to look back on our lives as Emily did, and make changes in order to be more fulfilled at the ends of our lives, and to have less regret. It inspires us to make meaningful connections with the people around us and examine our relationships more closely. While it may seem outdated at first, and it admittedly seems to drag on for the first two acts, Our Town finishes powerfully by reminding people what is important in life, whether they come from a small town with a population of 2,642 people, a college town with closer to 70,000 residents, or even metropolitan cities where this play is performed onstage. It is for these reasons that Our Town has held such incredible meaning for the past 80 years, and will continue to do so for at least 80 more.

16 August 2021
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