Our Town Critical Context
by Thornton Wilder

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Critical Context

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

When Wilder wrote Our Town, he had virtually no American models of dramatic expressionism. This play predates Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (1944) and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949) and is contemporaneous with Bertolt Brecht’s alienation drama. Wilder relied on a bare stage with only the most rudimentary props; his technique of creating a sense of illusion through language alone is reminiscent of William Shakespeare. It is the antithesis of the representational realism of Henrik Ibsen or Anton Chekhov.

The final act of Our Town is one of the most original and powerfully imagined scenes in all of theater. The awful peace of the dead as they have been weaned from the earth, Emily’s sad farewell visit to her family on her twelfth birthday, and the Stage Manager’s final speech sounding so much like Ecclesiastes provide an unforgettable theatrical experience. It is no wonder that Our Town is a perennial favorite with high school and college drama groups. For decades, it has been one of the most studied texts in the public schools and one of the most performed plays in the American theater.