Analyze two central ideas that are the themes of Our Town. What is the meaning or message of Our Town? How does the author develop each theme? Discuss one "how" technique that develops these themes...

Analyze two central ideas that are the themes of Our Town. What is the meaning or message of Our Town? How does the author develop each theme? Discuss one "how" technique that develops these themes through the course of the play. In your conclusion, discuss why these themes are relevant to modern readers, even though they play is over seventy years old. 

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one of the most central ideas to Wilder's work is the universality of the human experience.  Our Town strives to show the universal condition of life.  It is one whereby individuals find more in common than those forces which are different.  At the start of Act III, the Stage Manager articulates this condition of being in the world:

...everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you'd be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being.

One of the central ideas that serve as a critical theme in Our Town is understanding this eternal applicability to being in the world.  The voice of the Stage Manager is one technique that conveys this universal condition.  The Stage Manager is a voice that has seen the passage of time and the universality which is a part of the human condition within it.  The fact that the Stage Manager speaks to the "eternal" condition within all human beings is a part of the thematic development in Wilder's drama.

I think another critical theme is the appreciation of "the moment."  When Emily wishes to relive life, she comes to understand that nothing can take the place of reveling in the instant of life.  "The moment" and being able to appreciate it are some of the most powerful elements in the drama.  When she asks the Stage Manager if "anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute," it is an instant where the human condition is illuminated.  This is another aspect of the drama's universality, speaking to an aspect of human existence that applies to many.  Emily's question is asked to the Stage Manager, but Thornton's technique is to ensure that she asks it in a way that almost demands that we, the audience, ponder its nature in our own lives.  Throughout the drama, Emily's desire becomes something that we, ourselves, would ponder if in the same situation.  In asking a question that we have to confront and upon which our reflection becomes critical, Wilder is forging the universal nature of the themes in the drama.  This nature helps to clearly establish the thematic meaning and purpose of both what is presented on stage and what we consider in our own hearts and minds.

The questions of what is eternal and how to relish "the moment" are two thematic concerns of the drama.  They also serve to explain how the work is relevant to modern readers.  There has been no clearer explanation of such items then as there is now.  What Wilder offers is a universal prism, a kaleidoscope through which being in the world is established.  This prism is not a rocket ship that answers questions quickly from point A to point B.  Rather, it goes around in a circle, seeking to get us to ask more questions than we answer.  As a result, Wilder's play is as applicable then as it is now because we find we are still in search of such answers and wrestling with challenges that were present seventy years ago.  This is the embodiment of the very "eternal" nature that is embedded in Wilder's work.

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Our Town

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