Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 415
The stage manager
The stage manager, who acts as a chorus in explaining and commenting on the action and the characters as the play unfolds.
Emily Webb, a sweet young woman who grows up in Grover’s Corners, a small American town. She works hard in school, tries to be cheerful, and falls in love with the town’s best baseball player. She dies in childbirth while still young and shyly takes her place among her relatives and friends in the little graveyard. She tries to relive her twelfth birthday, only to discover that to relive is no joy and that the dead can only pity the living who know not what joy they have in life.
George Gibbs, a typical young American boy who loves baseball. He gives up going to college to marry Emily, whom he dearly loves. When his wife dies, he is filled with grief and goes to sob at her grave, not realizing that she pities him for not valuing the life he still enjoys.
Dr. Gibbs, the local physician and George’s father. He is shocked to find that his son wants to marry and become a farmer but finally realizes that the youth is really no longer a child, any more than the doctor was when he married. Dr. Gibbs is a hardworking man whose hobby is the American Civil War; his idea of a vacation is an excursion to some battlefield of that conflict.
Mrs. Gibbs, George’s mother, a hardworking woman who loves her family, even though she does not always understand them. She has found joy in her marriage and hopes her son will find joy in his.
Rebecca Gibbs, George’s sister.
Wally Webb, Emily’s brother.
Mr. Webb, Emily’s father, the editor and publisher of the local newspaper. He writes editorials every day, yet he cannot bring himself to advise his son-in-law on marriage, though he tries.
Mrs. Webb, Emily’s mother, a good-hearted woman. On Emily’s wedding day, she finds herself unable to give her daughter advice on marriage, though she had meant to do so.
Simon Stimson, the local choir director. He has become an alcoholic because he cannot find happiness in the small town. Even in death, after committing suicide, he believes life is ignorance and folly.
Joe Crowell, a newspaper boy.
Howie Newsome, a milkman.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1320
There seems to be little in the way of crime in Grover's Corners, so Constable Warren has to watch over the safety of the townspeople. He rescues a man who has fallen drunk into a snowbank and tries to make sure that the young boys, like Wally Webb, don't start smoking. He also ensures, when Simon Stimson is wandering around town at night, drunk, that he gets home safely.
Like the Crowell brothers and Howie Newsome, Sam Craig and Joe Stoddard bring news, but instead of bringing news of life, they bring news of death. Through them the audience learns of recent deaths and how they have affected the town.
Joe Crowell and his brother Si, are the town's newspaper boys. They are up early making their rounds before the town wakens. As the play progresses, the Stage Manager reveals that Joe was bright, but died in France during World War I.
Si Crowell and his brother Joe are the town's newspaper boys. Neither one has a positive opinion of marriage; Si and his Grover's Corners teammates lose "the best baseball pitcher Grover's Corners ever had" when George Gibbs decides to marry Emily Webb and settle down to farming.
Dr. Frank Gibbs
Frank Gibbs is a loving father and a kind husband. He knows just about everything about everybody in town, and he is perfectly content to live his life in Grover's Corners. Although there are differences that distinguish him from the character of Charles Webb, the two characters share similar roles and functions in the play.
George Gibbs is the All-American boy, or, more appropriately, what some people think of as the typical boy—nice and polite, but not very good at book and school learning; loving, but not very good at expressing those emotions; and perfectly happy to stay on the farm.
George is sincere, though just a bit tongue-tied when it comes to telling Emily that he loves her in Act Two. He is not a rebel and he doesn't want to change the world. He just wants to fall in love, marry, and live happily until "death do us part." And, even though the living happily part didn't last as long as he wanted it to, that's exactly what happens to George and Emily.
In Act Three, George doesn't utter a single word, but, when he throws himself on Emily's grave, his actions speak volumes.
Julia Hersey Gibbs
Mrs. Gibbs, a wife and a mother, can be viewed as interchangeable with the character of Myrtle Webb. Each worries about her husband and her children. Each seems content with life in Grover's Corners, although Mrs. Gibbs does express a desire to take the money received by selling an antique piece of furniture and convince her husband to take a vacation to Paris, instead of their usual excursion to visit Civil War battlefields. But, instead, she holds onto the money and leaves it in her will to the married George and Emily, who use the funds to improve the farm.
Rebecca is the younger sister of George Gibbs. She is presented, with Wally Webb, as a child squabbling with an older sibling in the family scenes, especially in Act One. The Stage Manager informs the audience in Act Three that Rebecca has married and moved to Ohio.
Howie Newsome, the milkman, is one of the town's early risers. A friendly and chatty man, Howie delivers the local gossip with his milk and cream every morning to the residents of Grover's Corners.
Mrs. Soames is the town chatterbox. She always has something to say, even when she's dead. It is Mrs. Soames who reveals Simon Stimson's drinking problem, and it is Mrs. Soames who gushes about the wedding. In death, it is Mrs. Soames who observes that life was both awful and wonderful.
The most important character in the play has no name and little importance in the story's action. But, he has the longest part, more speeches than any other character, and is always on the stage. Some critics have commented that he is like the omniscient narrator encountered in fiction. Often it appears mat he simply chats with the audience, dispensing folksy wisdom and sounding like the embodiment of common sense.
In classical Greek theater, the chorus served an important function. As a group of neutral observers, the chorus commented on the play's action and advised the audience how they should respond to the events of the drama. The nineteenth century's fascination with representing "reality" on the stage did away with the use of asides (comments made by stage performers that are intended to be heard by the audience but not by other characters). Wilder returns to that convention and uses the Stage Manager as a chorus figure to halt the action, intervene in the story, move back and forth in time, and make it clear that the representation on the stage is not “reality'' in the naturalistic sense.
In addition to his duties as the "chorus," the Stage Manager also plays prim Mrs. Forest, old-fashioned and conservative Mr. Morgan, and the solemn minister.
Stimson is the church organist who has a drinking problem and is the focus of much of the gossip of Graver's Corners. The conversation between the undertaker and Emily's cousin reveals that Stimson committed suicide and, instead of a epitaph on his grave stone, there are just notes of music. Stimson is the only character in the play who is unhappy. Other characters, such as Doc Gibbs, refer to Stimson's sorrows in general terms but never indicate specifically what they are. Even in death, Simon Stimson is a bitter man.
Like the Crowell brothers and Howie Newsome, Joe Stoddard and Sam Craig bring news, but instead of bringing news of life, they bring news of death. It is through them that the audience learns of recent deaths and how they have affected the town.
Like the character of Dr. Frank Gibbs, Charles Webb is a loving father and a kind husband with a sense of humor that survives the strain of their children's marriage. While each man has some interest that differentiates him from the other (Civil War battlefields for Doc Gibbs; Napoleon for Editor Webb), the speeches delivered by these two could be spoken by the other without any loss of importance.
Emily Webb might be called "the AU-Amen-can girl." She is bright, articulate, and, despite the anxiety she shares with her mother, a beautiful creature. She is the focus of the action of the play. In Act One, Emily is the naive schoolgirl, in Act Two, the maturing young woman, and in Act Three, the mother who has died in childbirth. It is through Emily that time of the play can be tracked.
Emily exhibits emotions that are familiar to the audience. From the unsure adolescent looking at the moonlight to the bride with a moment of last-minute panic on her wedding day, the audience connects with these feelings. It is also through Emily that Wilder presents his central life-affirming idea—"Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you.''
Myrtle Webb and Julia Hersey Gibbs, like their husbands, are two characters that can be viewed as virtually interchangeable. Content with life in Grover's Corners, each is a wife and a mother whose life focuses on her husband and her children.
As the younger brother of Emily Webb, Wally is seen throughout the play as child squabbling with his older sibling, especially in Act One. In this, his character is a parallel to that of Rebecca Gibbs. At the beginning of Act Three, the Stage Manager informs the audience that Wally Webb, who died of a ruptured appendix on a camping trip, is one of those in the cemetery.