Our Town

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Emily Webb Character Analysis

Emily is an intelligent, innocent young girl. She helps George with his homework in Act One and is upfront and honest with him about his conceited behavior in Act Two, which confirms for George how much he values her as a friend. Like George, she panics at their wedding, wanting to remain her father’s girl instead of growing up. When she passes away in Act Three, she attempts (as a still-existing soul) to relive her past life. However, she finds it too painful to go back knowing all that she now knows and ultimately returns to the present, letting go of her past life as Mrs. Gibbs encourages her to do. From her journey back in time, Emily gains a newfound appreciation for all the minute, everyday moments of life that living people don’t value highly enough.

Emily Webb Quotes in Our Town

The Our Town quotes below are all either spoken by Emily Webb or refer to Emily Webb. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Theater Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Perennial edition of Our Town published in 2003.
Act 2 Quotes

It certainly seems like being away three years you’d get out of touch with things. Maybe letters from Grover’s Corners wouldn’t be so interesting after a while. Grover’s Corners isn’t a very important place when you think of all—New Hampshire; but I think it’s a very nice town.

The day wouldn’t come when I wouldn’t want to know everything that’s happening here. I know that’s true, Emily.

Related Characters: George Gibbs (speaker), Emily Webb (speaker)
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Upon George bringing up the possibility of his attending the State Agriculture College and asking Emily to write him letters while he's at school in New Hampshire, Emily expresses her concern that the time he will be away from Grover's Corners will make letters from her obsolete anyways. Because the lifestyle here is both ordinary and insular, Emily fears that in three years away, George will broaden his horizons and worldliness and effectively lose interest in life in Grover's Corners.

Even Emily, for all her loyalty and rootedness to the town, concedes that when "you think of it all"—all being the wider world—Grover's Corners "isn't a very important place." 

George's response—he will always want to hear about Grovers Corners—indicates he hasn't lost sight of the importance of the town, and that he isn't taking for granted its quiet ordinariness (although that's not to say that this feeling will last when he moves away). In the grand scheme of things, it is easy to lose sight of how important even the smallest of towns are, and yet, part of what the play aims to convey audiences is that nothing is unimportant. 

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And, like you say, being gone all that time... in other places and meeting other people... Gosh, if anything like that can happen I don’t want to go away. I guess new people aren’t any better than old ones. I’ll bet they almost never are. Emily... I feel that you’re as good a friend as I’ve got. I don’t need to go and meet the people in other towns.

Related Characters: George Gibbs (speaker), Emily Webb
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

After Emily confronts George for his recent negative character changes and the growing distance in their friendship, he confides in her the fact that, despite all the places his career might take him, she and her longstanding friendship are enough for him: he doesn't need to see more of the world. In her—and in Grover's Corners—he has all he needs. 

On one level, this sentiment may seem naive or narrow-minded on George's part. After all, to feel as only a teenager that you've already seen everything you need to see is to limit yourself, to dismiss everything the world at large might offer you. 

And yet, there is also a startling maturity to George's words. Rather than spend his life searching for better people and places, he stubbornly values what he has, what is ordinary. In contrast to those who, constantly unfulfilled, spend—and ultimately waste—their lives looking for "the next best thing," he has already found it at home. By his teenage years, he has already learned what not to take for granted. 

And George over there, looking so ...! I hate him. I wish I were dead. Papa! Papa!

Emily! Emily! Now don’t get upset...

But, Papa,—I don’t want to get married....

Sh—sh—Emily. Everything’s all right.

Why can’t I stay for a while just as I am?

Related Characters: Emily Webb (speaker), Mr. Webb (speaker), George Gibbs
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

This conversation between Emily and her father about her doubts about marrying George is a saddening example of the stubbornness of tradition in Grover's Corners. 

Although doubts are arguably part of the marriage process, Emily's strong reluctance feels ostensibly deeper than nervousness. However, because marriage is the traditional way of Grover's Corners, Mr. Webb hushes his daughter's sentiments and reassures her that "Everything's all right." In this instance, maintaining order and tradition almost feels more critical than what Emily's true feelings are. 

In addition to the stubbornness of tradition, Emily's question to her father, "Why can't I stay for a while just as I am?" is one of the few moments in the play that someone does not take the moments in his or her life for granted. Here, Emily wants to linger in the moment of her life before marriage, this moment of freedom and youth. And with the later knowledge of her death, her self-awareness in this quote takes a dark, ominous tone. 

Act 3 Quotes

No!—At least, choose an unimportant day. Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough.

Related Characters: Mrs. Gibbs (speaker), Emily Webb
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

After a recently deceased Emily insists she must go back and revisit her life, the more experienced dead try, and fail, to dissuade her. However, Mrs. Gibbs, mother-in-law to Emily, at least persuades her to revisit an ordinary day as opposed to a significant one, such as, for instance, her wedding day.

Emily's initial insistence on a momentous occasion and Mrs. Gibbs' advice is a comment on our tendency to take for granted the marvels of the everyday. By going back to the everyday and the ordinary, she is finally able to understand how precious the mundane reality of life truly is, something she—and by extension, we—could never truly appreciate in life.

Do human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?

Related Characters: Emily Webb (speaker)
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

Upon Emily's emotional revisit to her twelfth birthday in Grover's Corners she comes to realize, in the hindsight of death, how deeply she and people in general take life for granted.

From the seemingly small detail of her mother cooking breakfast to seeing little brother Wally still alive, the scene of life moves a newly deceased Emily to tears. Though she, now aware of how fleeting life is, now wants to linger on every moment, twelve-year-old Emily and her surrounding family go about their day quickly and thoughtlessly. It is this taking for granted of every moment that separates the dead from the living, and it is here that Emily fully understands the other deceased and their warnings to not look back.

As we watch Emily watching the events of her own life, we get a sense of pause, an understanding of the rapid-fire nature of time (a lesson made especially potent by the fact that Emily essentially joins us, the audience, for this viewing of the past). The moments in life that seem insignificant or like they drag on forever are in fact, finite, and as such, they must be valued and cherished.  

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Emily Webb Character Timeline in Our Town

The timeline below shows where the character Emily Webb appears in Our Town. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Marriage and the Family Theme Icon
...downstairs for breakfast. They finally enter: George (sixteen) and Rebecca (eleven). In the Webb household, Emily (sixteen) and Wally (eleven) come down to breakfast. (full context)
The Theater Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
...have just gotten out of school, and Mr. Webb is mowing his lawn. George and Emily come back to their homes from school. George compliments Emily on an impressive speech she... (full context)
The Theater Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
George goes off to the baseball field, leaving Emily to speak with Mrs. Webb. Emily asks Mrs. Webb if she is good-looking and Mrs.... (full context)
Community Theme Icon
...the Tie That Binds.” This is the local church choir, directed by Simon Stimson. Meanwhile, Emily and George are “upstairs” in their respective rooms (symbolized on-stage by their being up in... (full context)
Community Theme Icon
The Everyday and the Ordinary Theme Icon
...is up on the second floor of his house and asks who’s there. It is Emily, who says she can’t sleep, because the moonlight is so bright. Mr. Webb asks if... (full context)
Act 2
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
...wedding. He delivers milk to the Webb household and tells Mrs. Webb that George and Emily will be very happy together, then leaves. Dr. Gibbs comes down to breakfast in his... (full context)
Community Theme Icon
...walks over to the Webb home, but Mrs. Webb tells him that he cannot see Emily as it is bad luck to see one’s bride on one’s wedding day. Mrs. Webb... (full context)
The Theater Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
Mrs. Webb returns and tells George to leave so Emily can come eat breakfast. The stage manager then interrupts and tells the audience that he... (full context)
Community Theme Icon
Emily and George talk, and George offers to carry Emily’s books. He asks her why she... (full context)
The Theater Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
Emily and George enter the local drugstore, where the stage manager plays Mr. Morgan, the owner... (full context)
The Everyday and the Ordinary Theme Icon
George and Emily have ice cream sodas. George tells her that he is thankful to have a friend... (full context)
Community Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
George tells Emily that he is glad that she spoke to him about his conceitedness and admits that... (full context)
The Theater Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
George offers to walk Emily home, but embarrassingly doesn’t have any money on him to pay for the ice cream... (full context)
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
...now. Then she begins to cry, and George comforts her, telling her that he and Emily will come to dinner every Thursday. (full context)
Community Theme Icon
Marriage and the Family Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
Emily enters, but is frightened. The choir begins to sing “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.”... (full context)
Marriage and the Family Theme Icon
Mr. Webb asks George if he will take care of his daughter. George tells Emily he loves her and promises to do his best to take care of her. Emily... (full context)
The Theater Theme Icon
The Everyday and the Ordinary Theme Icon
...of marriages, and that “once in a thousand times it’s interesting.” Newly married, George and Emily leave looking happy. The stage manager announces that the second act is finished. (full context)
Act 3
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
...and Mrs. Webb. Mrs. Soames asks who died, and Mrs. Gibbs answers that it was Emily. (full context)
Community Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
Mrs. Soames recalls Emily and George’s wedding and how intelligent Emily was in school. A group at the funeral... (full context)
The Theater Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
Emily comments that “live people don’t understand,” and Mrs. Gibbs agrees. Emily describes living people as... (full context)
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
Emily asks if she can go back and relive her life. Mrs. Gibbs says she can,... (full context)
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
But Emily is determined relive some of her earlier life. Mrs. Gibbs tells her to at least... (full context)
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
Emily talks with her mother but is finding reliving her life to be more and more... (full context)
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
Emily tells the stage manager that she can’t go on reliving her life, because “it goes... (full context)
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
Emily returns to the other deceased characters and tells them she should have taken their advice... (full context)
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
...the anonymous dead man found incredible. Meanwhile, George walks into the cemetery and kneels before Emily’s grave in grief, much to the disapproval of some of the dead. Emily comments that... (full context)