What is Act One of Our Town called, and when does it take place?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Our Town is a three-act play. The acts are not given titles. The narrator, who is called the Stage Manager, tells the audience that "The First Act shows a day in our town." So it might be said that the first act is called "A Day in Our Town." Later he will say it was called "Daily Life." The Stage Manager also gives the exact date at the very beginning of Act I. He says: "The day is May 7, 1901." The play was first performed on January 22, 1938, so the action goes back in time about thirty-seven years. At the beginning of Act III the Stage Manager tells the audience that it is summer, 1913; so about twelve years in the lives of these small-town Americans are covered in the play. Most of the characters who will appear in the play are introduced in Act I. The town is called Grover's Corners. It is intended to be a typical American small town. It is situated in New Hampshire just across the border from Massachusetts. The residents are all very simple, ordinary people, as the author, Thornton Wilder, intended. Evidently Wilder's main theme is the importance of the ordinary events of life to the little people of the world. 

In his introduction to Act II, the Stage Manager tells the audience:

The First Act was called the Daily Life. This act is called Love and Marriage. There's another act coming after this. I reckon you can guess what that's about. 

We can guess that the third act will be about death. It is the most gripping act in the play. It has an uncanny effect, even though the supposedly dead citizens of Grover's Corners are all sitting up on "ten or twelve ordinary chairs...placed in three openly spaced rows facing the audience." The most touching lines in the play are spoken by Emily Webb, who is dead but has gone back down to the town as an invisible spirit for a last look at where she lived.

Good-by. Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover's Corners . . . Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking . . . and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths . . . and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you.

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