State an important theme of the play Our Town. Analyze how the dramatic elements of the set, the characters, the events, and the symbols help convey that theme.
One of the central themes of the play relates to an idea of the universality of the human life cycle. This notion is conveyed and explored on several levels, from direct commentary to the choice of the set elements.
The actual set is largely devoid of detail. This helps to make Grover's Corners a representative town. It is "every town" on stage while it is also given some specific description in the text of the play.
The Stage Manager describes Grover's Corners in language that finds a balance between the specific and the general, helping here also to render the town as a universal example of a small town. Later remarks by the Stage Manager further define the theme of the life cycle, as he introduces the play's second act.
In addition to the comments made by the Stage Manager regarding the play's interest in daily life, marriage, and death (as a broad interest in the universal cycles of life), other characters are situated either in representative situations or allowed to make comments on marriage and death.
Our Town is concerned with the great and continuing cycle of life; out of life comes death and from death comes life. This cycle is man's closest understanding of eternity, his finest artistic expression of what he senses to be a mission and a purpose.
The wedding is particularly symbolic in the play as it is circumscribed by commentary by the Gibbs and Webb families and the Stage Manager.
The marriage of George and Emily is representative of all weddings, as the Stage Manager intimates:
I've married over two hundred couples in my day Do I believe in it? I don't know. M ... marries N . . millions of them. The cottage, the g-cart, the Sunday-afternoon drives in the Ford, the first rheumatism, the grandchildren, the second rheumatism, the deathbed, the reading of the will,... Once in a thousand times it's interesting.
Marriage is specifically noted as being a part of life and a universal condition, fitting into the cycle of life as a major element, shared across the generations.
Thornton Wilder's Our Town focuses mostly on the common experiences of everyday life. The first act of the play is basically an introduction to the small town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. The life of the town is fairly simple and is meant to represent life in any American small town. Perhaps the only distinguishing feature is that it's in a part of the country that was settled earlier than other parts, so there is a longer history in that region.
As the play continues, we see two of the characters, Emily and George, get married. The play emphasizes that marriage and the jitters that accompany the time immediately before the wedding are common experiences. This is mostly conveyed through the conversations between the younger characters and their parents, who describe how similarly they felt before their weddings.
Finally, in the play's final act, we learn that Emily has died in childbirth. Her family gathers at her funeral, but we also see Emily and other now-dead characters in this scene. Emily reacts to her new state and longs to remember the best times of her life. The other dead characters warn her against that and indicate that she should just try to become accustomed to her new "normal." This act continues the theme of everyday life. The experience of death, or the loss of a loved one, is universal. Wilder puts an original spin on this idea, though, by showing us the feelings of the dead as well as the grief of the living. In fact, the perspective of the dead is emphasized here and is what gives the play its strongest emotional punch.
In addition to its focus on everyday life, the final act shows us that one theme of the play is death as a transition into another state. When people die, they are part of another realm, another experience. They are definitely separate now from the living and even from their own lives on Earth. Death is part of the life cycle but is also depicted as something significantly different from the life to which we are accustomed.