Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Early one morning in 1901, Dr. Gibbs returns to his home in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. He has just been across the tracks to Polish Town to deliver Mrs. Goruslowski’s twins. On the street he meets Joe Crowell, the morning paperboy, and Howie Newsome, the milkman. The day’s work is beginning in Grover’s Corners. Mrs. Gibbs has breakfast ready when her husband arrives, and she calls the children, George and Rebecca, to the table. After breakfast the children leave for school in the company of the Webb children, Wally and Emily, who are neighbors.
After the children leave, Mrs. Gibbs steps out to feed her chickens. Seeing Mrs. Webb stringing beans in her back yard, she crosses over to talk with her. Mrs. Gibbs has been offered $350 for some antique furniture; she will sell the furniture, she decides, if she can get Dr. Gibbs to take a vacation with her. Dr. Gibbs has no wish to take a vacation, however; if he can visit the Civil War battlegrounds every other year, he is satisfied.
The warm day passes, and the children return home from school. Emily Webb walks home alone, pretending she is a great lady. George Gibbs, on his way to play baseball, stops to talk to Emily and tells her how much he admires her success at school. He cannot, he insists, imagine how anyone could spend so much time over homework as she does. Flattered, Emily promises to help George with his algebra. He says that he does not really need school work, because he is going to be a farmer as soon as he graduates from high school. When George leaves, Emily runs to her mother and asks if she is pretty enough to make boys notice her. Grudgingly, her mother admits that she is, but Mrs. Webb tries to turn Emily’s mind to other subjects.
That evening, while Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs are at choir practice, George and Emily sit upstairs studying. Their windows face each other, and George calls to Emily for some advice on his algebra. Emily helps him, but she is more interested in the moonlight. When she calls George’s attention to the beautiful night, he seems only mildly interested.
The ladies coming home from choir practice gossip about their leader, Simon Stimson. He drinks most of the time, and for some reason he cannot adjust himself to small-town life. The ladies wonder how it will all end. Mr. Webb also wonders. He is the editor of the local paper; as he goes home, he meets Simon roaming the deserted streets. When Mr. Webb reaches his home, he finds Emily still gazing out of her window at the moon—and dreaming.
At the end of his junior year in high school George is elected president of his class, and Emily is elected secretary-treasurer. When George walks home with Emily after the...
(The entire section is 1111 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In the drama Our Town, Wilder would find the fullest expression of his humanistic convictions, pouring all of his genius into it. The play, which opened on Broadway on February 4, 1938, reaffirmed his deep-seated belief that eternal human truths can be observed in American life. Today, the play is regarded as an American classic. It was a different matter, however, in the beginning.
The play had a rocky out-of-town reception by the critics before opening in New York City, but thanks to the strong support of doyen Brooks Atkinson, it caught on with the public and ran for 336 performances. It was made into a film in 1940, which, despite a serious change in plot structure, was almost as popular as the stage presentation. Even though denied the prestigious New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the play did garner a second Pulitzer Prize for Wilder.
Wilder believed that he could achieve in drama what he failed to do in the novel. He opens Our Town simply: “No curtain. No scenery.” He soon introduces the people of Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire, on specific days during the period from 1901 to 1913. The almost nonexistent plot revolves around two neighboring households—the Webbs and the Gibbses. Both families, eventually united by marriage, are unremarkable, and nothing very special happens to them or the other characters.
What makes Our Town unique is the character of the Stage Manager, who narrates the play, a technique Wilder had previously used in his one-act play The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden (1931). Wilder’s innovative use of this device sets him apart from contemporary dramatists; the device draws its strength and roots from the...
(The entire section is 704 words.)