In Act II from Our Town by Thornton Wilder, explain the  purpose of the small talk between Emily and George at the drug store?

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Our Town by Thornton Wilder has become an American classic.  The creativeness of the play has never been equaled: little scenery; no properties; and the Stage Manager who speaks directly to the audience and seems to control the actors and the play. The play’s characters represent America at the turn of the twentieth century; however, love, marriage, death, and life never change for mankind.

In Act II, Emily Gibb and George Webb have just finished their junior year in high school.  George asks if he can carry Emily’s books home, but she refuses and acts somewhat aloof with him.  Finally, George asks her if she is mad at him. Emily tells him that he has been acting somewhat conceited and she does not like that trait in him.  Surprisingly, he thanks her for her honesty.

The Stage Manager has warned the audience that this is the time that the couple will realize that they are meant for each other. 

The Details of Love

The scene includes an old-fashioned sharing of one soda with two straws.  This usually meant that the pair liked each other and in those days that was the equivalent of holding hands. 

George shares his plans with Emily about going away to agriculture college.  He asks her to write him. Emily mentions that maybe after three years he would be tired of receiving letters from a little town in New Hampshire.  George says that he would never get tired of knowing what was going on in Grover’s Corners.   

The dialogue in the scene is based on small talk between two young people who are falling in love.  When two people are around each other for the first time in an intimate setting, the talk is going to be about insignificant things that help the two people to get to know and trust each other. The talk of the letters was George’s way of finding out if Emily liked him or not.

Realizing that he would have to be away from home and Emily for three years, George makes a spur of the moment decision not to go away to college.  George admits that he has been watching Emily for over a year. She has admits that she has been watching him as well. George explains to Emily why he is not going to college: 

I think that once you’ve found a person that you’re very fond of …I mean a person who’s fond of you, too, and likes you enough to be interested in your character…Well, I think that’s just as important as college is, and even more so.  That’s what I think.

Emily agrees with George. Finally, George gets up the nerve to ask her if she would…Emily knows what he means and tells him that she always has been…his sweetheart. George says that this is an important talk that they have been having. 

George and Emily have their whole future ahead of them. Not only are they presumably dreaming about their future, but the audience is ready for the wedding to begin.

Friendship in the play is necessary to expose the loving relationships that are found in the Gibbs and Webbs families.  Dr. Gibbs tells his wife that he was nervous when they first got married about whether they would run out of things to talk about…and yet they are still friends and happily married for many years.

Life is not about big events. It is about the small talk and little doses of life that mound up to be a person’s life.  Before the eyes of the audience, Emily and George have promised to spend their lives together even though they do not realize it yet.  Friendship is the basis for romance and eventually love. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

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