In a preface to Our Town, Thornton Wilder stated “that since visiting ancient archeological sites in Rome, he often tried to look at the world around him through the eyes of a future civilization.” The Stage Manager reinforces this idea in the play when he mentions that little is known about ancient civilizations.
The Stage Manager says in his monologue halfway through the first act:
‘Babylon once had two million people in it, and all we know about 'em is the names of the kings and some copies of wheat contracts. Yet every night all those families sat down to supper, and the father came home from his work, and the smoke went up the chimney, -- same as here.’
Why do people care about previous civilizations? It is important to study history not just American but world because that is the only way that mankind learns and improves. To add to this idea, the Stage Manager introduces the idea of a Time Capsule. He explains that a copy of Our Town will be placed in the time capsule in the cornerstone of the new Grover's Corners bank, so that in a thousand years it will be known
‘that this is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying.’
What will go in Grover’s Corner’s time capsule? The local newspaper, The New York Times, the U.S. Constitution, the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, and, of course, a copy of Our Town—probably not much different than what might be included in a capsule today
The play and Grover’s Corners stand for all the small towns in America at the turn of the century. Whether it is 2012 or 2050, the insight that will be shared that is human beings are consistent: we are born, grow up, fall in love, marry, give birth, live, and die. These events frame the entire human race and almost all cultures.
In fact, the play itself serves as its own time capsule. Life around the turn of the century in small town American was slower, quieter [literally], less stressful to most… everybody knew his/her role in life.
There were still life altering events and unhappy people as were presented in the play: the town alcoholic, who ends his life; the gossips; young men who die in war; lovers; marriage; death. These are all still here today.
In his genius, Wilder established a singular play with many "leitmotifs" to discover and enjoy.