In Act 3 of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, the living are concerned for the dead. How do the dead feel about or respond to this?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The dead in the cemetery seem to be irritated by the living people who mourn for the dead, or they think the mourners are silly. When the mourners arrive for the funeral, Simon Stimson, one of the dead, says, "I'm always uncomfortable when they're around." At the end of the play, he goes into a long tirade about how ignorant and self-centered the living are, always being controlled by their passions. He says this just before George Gibbs comes alone to the cemetery hours after his wife's funeral has ended. Presumably one of the silly passions Mr. Stimson was complaining about is grief for the loss of loved ones.

Others among the dead comment when George comes to grieve. They say that he shouldn't be coming at that time of day. One says it's "funny," that is, odd, that he should be there. A woman says, "That's no way for him to behave" when George falls to his knees mourning—as if his behavior is in bad taste and outrageous.

The dead seem totally unsympathetic to the sorrows the living have over those who have passed away. They go on and on about how blind the living are, how they lack understanding, as if the dead don't recall feeling the same way. The portrayal is ironic in that the dead seem just as blind in their own way of earthly realities as the living are blind toward eternal realities. Supposedly the dead have a higher level of understanding and have risen above being overcome with sorrow and grief. The fact that the dead don't mourn in return is one of the most disturbing aspects of the play. That is the part, as the Stage Manager warned, that hurts our feelings.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Set at the Grover's Corner cemetery, Act III opens on the summer of 1913 and begins with a brief soliloquy by the Stage Manager in which he discusses the nature of death.  He says that over time, dead people lose interest in the activities of the living, and become more aware of their place in eternity.  The ghost of Emily, discussing some things she was doing in her earthly life, to another ghost, Mrs. Gibbs, appears to be making some progress toward her eternal existence when she comments that the living "don't understand".  However, she insists on returning to the day of her twelfth birthday, where she becomes upset when she realizes how little living people appreciate what they've been given each day. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial