Form and Content
This three-act play chronicles typical episodes in the life of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, beginning in 1901 and ending in 1913. In the first act, called by the Stage Manager “The Daily Life,” Grover’s Corners is set forth in minute detail, including the locales, history, geography, and demographics of the area, to create a backdrop of small-town America against which the lives of its citizens are played out. Thornton Wilder’s focus is on a single day, May 7, 1901, as two prominent neighboring families, the Gibbses and the Webbs, go about their daily lives. George Gibbs is more interested in baseball than in helping his mother chop wood, to the chagrin of his father. Emily Webb, a star student in high school, agrees to give George hints about his algebra problems. Toward day’s end, Simon Stimson’s drinking is the talk after choir practice.
The Stage Manager calls the second act “Love and Marriage.” The tender and awkward courtship of George and Emily at Mr. Morgan’s soda fountain concludes with George deciding not to go off to State Agriculture College but to stay in Grover’s Corners in order to be with Emily. The Stage Manager as minister performs their marriage, which town gossip Louella Soames thinks is the nicest wedding she has ever seen. Wilder prepares the audience for the grim final act with the Stage Manager’s commentary on the course of life: “The cottage, the gocart, the Sunday afternoon drives in the Ford, the first rheumatism, the grandchildren, the second rheumatism, the deathbed, the reading of the will,—.”
In the third act, several years have passed, and Mrs. Gibbs, Simon Stimson, and Mrs. Soames have died. The scene is the Grover’s Corners churchyard, and the occasion is the funeral of Emily Webb Gibbs, who died in childbirth at the age of twenty-six. The Stage Manager philosophizes about the state of the dead, and, in an immensely imaginative scene, the dead speak about how troubled the living are. Against the advice of Mrs. Gibbs and others, Emily returns to the land of the living to relive her twelfth birthday. As an invisible presence, she observes her family and exclaims, “Why did they ever have to get old?” She realizes that she truly cannot go home again and, regretting that life passes by so quickly without true appreciation and understanding, returns to the world of the dead. The Stage Manager bids the audience a good night.
Grover’s Corners. Fictional New Hampshire town that is the setting for the entire play. The depiction of this small village is primarily dependent upon the descriptions given by the pivotal character of the stage manager. He explains that the town is “just across the Massachusetts line: latitude 42 degrees 40 minutes; longitude 70 degrees 37 minutes.” He goes on to describe what a typical morning sky looks like in Grover’s Corners, with its “streaks of light” and the morning star still shining brightly within it. The effect of the stage manager’s words is both cinematic and hypnotic; it accomplishes what mere scenery could not. Through his words, the audience sees, as if they are behind a moving camera, the heavens that look down upon the town, the town’s busy streets and communities, and even more specific spots, such as the stores the townspeople frequent and the schools their children attend.
Finally, when the stage manager approaches the table and chairs that serve as the Gibbs house and points to the spot that is to be Mrs. Webb’s garden, vine and flower-covered trellises are rolled out “for those,” he says, tongue planted firmly in cheek, “who think they have to have scenery,” and the audience then focuses on the individual lives that are to be examined in this play, rather than on superfluous details.
Main Street. Street at the heart of Grover’s Corners on which almost every character in the play is, at one time or another, seen bustling along. However, the actions of these people...
(The entire section is 3,101 words.)