Our Town

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Perennial edition of Our Town published in 2003.
Act 1 Quotes

This play is called “Our Town.” It was written by Thornton Wilder; produced and directed by A. ... In it you will see Miss C. ...; Miss D. ...; Miss E. ...; and Mr. F. ...; Mr. G. ...; Mr. H. ...; and many others.

Related Characters: Stage Manager (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

With these opening lines, the Stage Manager immediately knocks down the "fourth wall" by addressing the audience directly: although we come to see that he is also embedded in the world of Grover's Corners as a character, here, he is introducing the play Our Town as a piece of fictional art, as something created rather than plainly real, and he references here not the characters in the play but the names of the director and actors who are performing it. (Although the actual director and actors in the play are not, of course, named "A." or "Miss D.", etc., thus adding an even a further playful layer to the idea of theater and what is and isn't "real.")

Furthermore, the ellipses that follow the names of each of the actor's names in this introduction suggest a sense of universality regarding the story that is to come: one gets the sense that any names can be inserted here; as much as the events of Our Town are unique experiences of the characters involved, they are also, on some level, shared human experiences.

The Stage Manager is, in fact, inviting us to identify with and insert ourselves into this narrative. It is, after all, our narrative. This explains perhaps why the play so often breaks the fourth wall -- there is no need for the fourth wall in a play that is asserting that the experiences relayed in fiction and art are no different than that of reality.  

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There’s some scenery for those who think they have to have scenery.

Related Characters: Stage Manager (speaker)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Not only does the set-up of the play's stage arrangements happen explicitly in front of audience members—in another act of breaking down the fourth wall—but the setup itself is purposefully minimal. With only a few furnishings to represent the Gibbs' and Webb's respective houses on an otherwise bare set, the actors must rely largely on pantomime.

In these lines, the Stage Manager acknowledges this minimalism in a way that suggests that any scenery whatsoever is nonessential, and the inclusion of these pieces is done as a favor to audiences who mistakenly "think they have to have scenery." On the one hand, the lack of scenery adds a layer of hyper-reality to the play. The bare stage creates intimacy between the audience and art, giving viewers the sense that there is nothing that defines our lives as distinct from lives unfolding on the stage. In other words, truth doesn't need a backdrop of extensive props and setting. Rather, it stands alone.

However, in addition and in contrast to this hyper-reality, the lack of scenery also reassures the viewers that what they’re seeing is, on some level, still fictional. This is particularly true in the actors’ pantomiming: we are, after all, watching them pretend the contents of Grover’s Corners are tangible and real. The blurred sense of fiction and reality is a common thread throughout the play.  

Nice town, y’know what I mean? Nobody very remarkable ever come out of it, s’far as we know.

Related Characters: Stage Manager (speaker)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

The Stage Manager's assessment of Grover's Corners as a "nice town" populated with unremarkable people adds to the play's emphasis on the everyday and the ordinary. The fact that Grover's Corners has not produced any notable or extraordinary people does not function here as a critique of the community, and instead suggests that this is a town that values the little things, so to speak, a place that doesn't need anything overtly sensational to be a pleasant place to live.

On another level, the embracing of the town's apparent ordinariness also hints at the cyclical nature of life here. In the Stage Manager's assertion that the place has not given rise to any remarkable people "s'far as we know" is the sense that the town produces the same kind of people over and over again. There is a set norm, one traditional type of people, and no one outside of that. While it is positive that the town values the ordinary (after all, so much of life falls into the ordinary category) their stagnation and contentedness also highlights the negative elements of tradition and tightly-knit community. 

In our town we like to know the facts about everybody.

Related Characters: Stage Manager (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

In the insular community that is Grover’s Corners, the Stage Manager’s statement works to reinforce the intimacy between the people who live here. As in any small town, curiosity over the lives of others reigns strong, and privacy is nearly impossible.

And yet, despite all the neighborly curiosity, Grover’s Corners is not to be misunderstood as gossipy—far from it. The people here, the stage manager insists, are keen on the truth, desiring to know only “the facts about everybody.”

In a community where legacy and history are held in high esteem, this desire for facts and truth is unsurprising, and gives the characters a sense of legitimacy and reliability when they relay memories about the town and its past.

Want to tell you something about that boy Joe Crowell there. Joe was awful bright—graduated from high school here, head of his class. So he got a scholarship to Massachusetts Tech. Graduated head of his class there, too. It was all wrote up in the Boston paper at the time. Goin’ to be a great engineer, Joe was. But the war broke out and he died in France.—All that education for nothing.

Related Characters: Stage Manager (speaker), Joe Crowell
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

From the Stage Manager’s brief account, it is evident that the late Joe Crowell was both an anomaly and a hero to Grover’s Corners. In a town of ordinariness, sameness, and tradition, Joe’s intelligence distinguished him from the rest—he was, in short, remarkable, in the way that almost no other residents are perceived.

Despite Joe’s bright future as an engineer, the Stage Manager’s blunt explanation of his untimely death during the war suggests that, although glamorous at face value, being remarkable and distinguishing oneself from the pack is ultimately a futile pursuit.

We all arrive at the same end—death—and because we are all eventually equalized this way, our lifelong efforts to stand out or achieve something different from the norm (for example, all of Joe’s efforts to become educated) are all “for nothing.” To feel fulfilled, it may as well be more valuable for us to be ordinary, and moreover, content with our ordinariness, than to grasp beyond. 

Only it seems to me that once in your life before you die you ought to see a country where they don’t talk in English and don’t even want to.

Related Characters: Mrs. Gibbs (speaker)
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Gibbs' bucket-list desire to travel abroad at least once in a lifetime (her preference is to go to Paris) betrays a worldliness we don't see in the other members of the Grover's Corners community. Her conviction that a complete life should include the experience of being a foreigner somewhere is in deep contrast to the routine and rootedness we otherwise witness in Grover's Corners, whose residents largely live their whole lives in one place.

At the same time, as the audience we have hindsight knowledge of Mrs. Gibb's passing, of the fact that she never actually gets to Paris or anywhere else far outside Grover's Corners, and so her wanderlust takes on a darker tone. There is the sense that she doesn't, and can't, know how limited her time is. And this idea also suggests a more general fact: none of us can know how limited our time is either, and many of our dreams will go unfulfilled. 

Y’know—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... and contracts for the sale of slaves. 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. And even in Greece and Rome, all we know about the real life of the people is what we can piece together out of the joking poems and the comedies they wrote for the theatre back then.

So I’m going to have a copy of this play put in the cornerstone and the people a thousand years from now’ll know a few simple facts about us.

Related Characters: Stage Manager (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Time Capsule
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

In one of the play's most direct instances of breaking down the fourth wall, the Stage Manager declares he will put a copy of Our Town itself into the time capsule Grover's Corners is making, which is also set to contain newspapers and a copy of the Bible, among other things.

The time capsule is the product of the town's strong desire for continuity and preservation -- for its present to live on into the future -- and the Stage Manager justifies the choice to represent Grover's Corners with commonplace artifacts by critiquing the ancient civilizations of Babylon, Greece, and Rome: while all three of these ancient cities are unparalleled in fame and importance, our knowledge of how most of their population lived is scant and based entirely on inferences made from sources on other subjects. By including everyday artifacts, the Stage Manager insists upon the importance of the everyday and of the people who live everyday lives (as opposed to the idea that only the lives of the rich, famous, or powerful are worth preserving). 

However, his acknowledgement that the lives of the people he is documenting are in fact, elements of a play -- the play of Our Town -- blurs the line between fiction and reality. On the one hand, we might question if there's truth to what is being left behind for future generations if that "truth" is in a made-up play. On the other hand, the Stage Manager seems to be asserting that Art and Theater do contain deep truths, perhaps the deepest truths, in the way they can capture and present real feelings, real emotions, and real lives, even if those things are embodied in fictional characters.

They’re all getting citified, that’s the trouble with them.

Related Characters: Dr. Gibbs (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

As the people of Grover's Corners adjust their lifestyles to changing times and technology, a cynical Doc Gibbs disapproves of his neighbors modernization, which he here refers to as "getting citified."

Doc Gibbs values the traditional, familiar aspects of his community and its lifestyle, and his dismissal of progress and modernization demonstrates the negative side of tradition: stubbornness and resistance to change, both good and bad. 

In addition to keeping with the traditional and the familiar, Doc Gibbs' assertion also betrays a genuine sense of fear. If the town urbanizes and effectively reinvents itself, it is possible that there will be less continuity and connection between the town's history -- the old way of life -- and its modernizing future. The trouble Doc Gibbs is mentioning is not only the looming threat that life as he knows it will become outdated, but that "old-fashioned" people, himself included, will also fade into the obsolete. 

I never told you about that letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter and on the envelope the address was like this: It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America.

What’s funny about that?

But listen, it’s not finished; the United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God.

Related Characters: George Gibbs (speaker), Rebecca Gibbs (speaker)
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

The peculiar nature of the letter George and Rebecca are discussing lies within the extensiveness of its address. Like a Russian nesting doll, it lists each community-- from Crofut Farm to the USA, to the Universe and finally, unto the Mind of God-- as parts of something continuously larger. 

This chain of communities within communities, in which places as small as a farm give way to the largeness of hemispheres and solar systems, reiterates the importance of the ordinary and the everyday. Although a town as plain as Grover's Corners may seem infinitesimal in the grand scheme of the world and universe at large, in fact, it is this plainness which, bit by bit, builds the world at large. 

Thus, the residents of Grover's Corners are justified in their value for the ordinary. The ordinary is essential-- too often taken for granted, it is the building block of all we consider extraordinary.  

Act 2 Quotes

Almost everybody in the world gets married,—you know what I mean? In our town there aren’t hardly any exceptions. Most everybody in the world climbs into their graves married.

Related Characters: Stage Manager (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

The importance of marriage features strongly in Grover's Corners. Just as "almost everybody" in the broader world gets married, almost everybody n Grover's Corners does too. Marriage is the rule to which there are "hardly any exceptions." 

Conformity to marriage is one of the many examples of the significance of tradition within the community, On the one hand, the image of climbing into graves in married pairs may seem like sheep-like and negative in its conformity, but in fact, it also represents the genuine desire for companionship present in us all. No one wants to go through life alone, and the image of everyone climbing into their graves together insists upon the old adage that no one wants to die alone, either.  

The First Act was called the Daily Life. This act is called Love and Marriage. There’s another act coming after this: I reckon you can guess what that’s about.

Related Characters: Stage Manager (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

At the top of the Act II, the Stage Manager once again dissolves the fourth wall in a moment of bleak transparency with the audience: his outline of the play—from Daily Life, to Love and Marriage, to his dark, rhetorical hint that Death is slated to follow—effectively gives away the plot of the play and, arguably, peels back some of the narrative suspense.

Though the direct communication between the Stage Manager and audience highlights the fact that the play is fiction, his summary of the acts also intimates at reality. After all, our own lives might easily be summarized along the same, inevitable phases the Stage Manager is outlining here. In this sense, retaining narrative suspense or giving away the plot are moot points. Our own lives, despite being as finitely plotted as the characters of Grover’s Corners, are no less moving, devastating, or even surprising for all their innate predictability.

Here comes Howie Newsome delivering the milk. And there’s Si Cromwell delivering the papers like his brother before him.

Related Characters: Stage Manager (speaker), Howie Newsome, Si Crowell
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

The Stage Manager's narration of routine milk and newspaper deliveries color, at the surface, the nature of everyday life in Grover's Corners. The faces and respective services of Howie and Si add to the sense of comforting predictability within the town; like every community, they are the staples so commonplace to us that we take them for granted.

Beneath the surface, however, the Stage Manager's observations also serve to convey the unbroken cycle of tradition in a town like Grover's Corners. Just as Howie and Si are always associated with the services they provide, the entire community is stagnant in their roles, status, and traditions. This is particularly true of his assessment of Si Cromwell, who delivers papers "like his brother before him." The sense of repetition -- one Cromwell newsboy followed by another -- might be easy and predictable, but it's also edged with a suffocating lack of change and mobility posed by such a long-established system. 

And how do you think I felt!—Frank, weddings are perfectly awful things. Farces,—that’s what they are!

Related Characters: Mrs. Gibbs (speaker), Dr. Gibbs
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

As George prepares to marry Emily, Mrs. Gibbs' angry and emotional denouncement of weddings, which she expresses outright to her own husband, is a poignant moment of rebellion against the very tradition she herself is apart of—marriage. 

Mrs. Gibbs' message is mixed: though she encourages George to go through with his marriage in spite of his doubts, though she says people are meant to go through life together in pairs as a means of avoiding loneliness, she also declares here that weddings are "perfectly awful" and "farces." 

In particular, Mrs. Gibbs' statement that marriage is a farce calls into question which of her many messages she truly believes in. We are left wondering whether her statement about marriage as a counter to loneliness is at all sincere, or whether she actually finds the institution unfulfilling and superficial. 

Yes... people are meant to go through life two by two. ’Tain’t natural to be lonesome.

Related Characters: Mrs. Gibbs (speaker)
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

On the morning of her son's wedding to Emily, Mrs. Gibbs, in one of her numerous and rather conflicting views on marriage,  endorses the institution here as a critical, even sanctified part of life. Besides being a tradition, marriage is a means of protection against loneliness. According to Mrs. Gibbs, going through life alone verges on the unnatural. 

Nevertheless, the truth of Mrs. Gibbs' statement is questionable when considering the dissatisfaction she expresses over marriage and weddings within the very same act. Coming from someone who has been married as long as she has, we are led to wonder whether marriage is at all effective in healing loneliness, or whether it is more of a placebo that the townspeople indulge in for the promise of a quick-fix. After all, the marriages we see in the play- the Stimsons, the Webbs, the Gibbs, and Emily and George, whose life together is cut short by Emily's untimely death- are not free of dissatisfaction or loneliness. 

Don’t you misunderstand me, my boy. Marriage is a wonderful thing,—wonderful thing. And don’t you forget that, George.

Related Characters: Mr. Webb (speaker), George Gibbs
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

At the surface, Mr. Webb's endorsement of the institution of marriage to his future son-in-law follows suit with the traditional values and teachings of Grover's Corners. 

Yet, beneath the surface of the endorsement, the words seem more like an act of persuasion than they are purely reassuring to George. After explaining the bleaker truths of what marriage includes, Mr. Webb wants George not to misunderstand the fact that it is nonetheless wonderful. 

Whether this is in earnest, or whether Mr. Webb is trying to reassure himself of marriage's wonders after so many years of being married, is unclear, but also unimportant in the scheme of tradition—marriage is the way of life in Grover's Corners. Wonderful or not, there is no alternative. 

George, I was thinking the other night of some advice my father gave me when I got married. Charles, he said, Charles, start out early showing who’s boss, he said. Best thing to do is give an order, even if it don’t make sense; just so she’ll learn to obey. [...]

Well, Mr. Webb... I don’t think I could...

So I took the opposite of my father’s advice and I’ve been happy ever since.

Related Characters: George Gibbs (speaker), Mr. Webb (speaker)
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

After they get over the initial superstition of a groom not seeing his father-in-law before the wedding, Mr. Webb is giving George not only uplifting advice about marriage, but also advice about the occasional benefits of breaking from tradition. 

When Mr. Webb introduces his initial advice with the tag "some advice my father gave me," we get the sense that what is going to be said next is an important legacy and tradition, as it is now being passed on to the third generation. 

However, when we come to hear this traditional advice, which promotes gender inequality and female subjugation in marriage, both the audience and George, who expresses his uncertainty over Mr. Webb's words, quickly see that the traditional advice is obsolete and damaging. 

Mr. Webb, who reassures George he took the opposite of his father's misogynistic advice, clearly also understands this. His advice to George, therefore, is not only how to properly treat a woman, but also the suggestion that it's okay to break from traditions that aren't worth keeping. Even in the town of Grover's Corners, there does exist some room for growth and change.

And now they’re bringing in these auto-mo-biles, the best thing to do is to just stay home. Why, I can remember when a dog could go to sleep all day in the middle of Main Street and nothing come along to disturb him.

Related Characters: Stage Manager (speaker)
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

With his observation about the community turning more and more to "auto-mo-biles", the Stage Manager is once again cynical about the gradual urbanization of Grover's Corners. He suggests that the increase of cars make Grover's Corners a less desireable place to live.

Contrary to the notion that cars and transportation help connect people to each other, the Stage Manager disagrees. The cars and technology are, to him, nothing beyond disruptive (as with the example of the dog who used to peacefully be able to sleep on Main Street) and thus encourage people to stay at home—weakening community rather than building it.

While cars do, without doubt, change the lifestyle of Grover's Corners' residents, these changes go hand-in-hand with the changing times. That the Stage Manager looks down upon modernization is an example of the more negative and stubborn effects of being traditional. There must also be a level of adaptability, of openness to change, to both move forward and simultaneously honor the old way. 

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. 

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. 

Oh, I’ve got to say it: you know, there’s something downright cruel about sending our girls out into marriage this way.

Related Characters: Mrs. Webb (speaker)
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Emily's doubts over her impending marriage to George Gibbs—the sadness of leaving her childhood behind, her abrupt departure from the Webb home and all its familiar comforts—crack Mrs. Webb's composed exterior and she expresses regret over the town's marital traditions. The institution of marriage is a cornerstone in Grover's Corners' traditional community, and the wife's role as mother and caretaker is integral to this system.

However, this moment reveals tradition's costs, as well. Although Mrs. Webb has in her life conformed to the town's standards for wifehood and womanhood, always taking a backseat to Mr. Webb, the bitter sentiment she betrays here shows her deep dissatisfaction over tradition and gender roles, suggesting that, amidst the constant push to uphold the town's values and traditions, individual dreams and lives, particularly those of women, get sacrificed. The play doesn't necessarily suggest a solution to this dilemma—that the preservation of an "ideal" traditional community has costs to women that might at first seem invisible—but it does identify that the issue is real and worthy of recognition (and in doing so suggests that social change can also have benefits, while admitting that such changes will also have costs, however unforeseen). 

Ma, I don’t want to grow old. Why’s everybody pushing me so?

Related Characters: George Gibbs (speaker), Mrs. Gibbs
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, a soon-to-be-married George mirrors his bride-to-be's reluctance towards their impending wedding. Asides from the significance of marriage as a town tradition, and as one of life's milestones, it represents in many ways maturation and sacrifice. Though still young, George's youthful chapter is closing in on him quickly. 

And yet, it is somewhat inconsequential whether or not George does not want to grow old. Time is out of his control in the same way it is out of everyone's, and the changes it brings—in George's case, the transition from a young, schoolboy type into a married family man—must therefore be embraced rather than resisted. Though George's mother, in whom he is confiding in these lines, has her own reservations about marriage, she and the others whom George thinks are pushing him are also more experienced. They know, as George perhaps does not, that time and change is unavoidable, even in Grover's Corners. 

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

This time nine years have gone by, friends—summer 1913.
Gradual changes in Grover’s Corners. Horses are getting rarer.
Farmers coming into town in Fords.
Everybody locks their house doors at night. Ain’t been any burglars in town yet, but everybody’s heard about ’em.
You’d be surprised, though—on the whole, things don’t change much around here.

Related Characters: Stage Manager (speaker)
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

In his preface to the final act of the play, the Stage Manager makes note of gradual but notable changes that have occurred in Grover's Corners. We can tell from observations like more automobiles—even among farmers—and fewer old-fashioned means of transportation, like horses, that this reflects the increasing urbanization of the small town. 

The other gradual and yet significant change can be seen with the town's changing behavior with security. As opposed to the previous feel of Grover's Corners as a town of no privacy, where everyone knows about everything about everyone, the locked doors betray a lack of openness, and the fear motivating this change—an unconfirmed fear of burglars—suggests that residents trust each other less these days, perhaps because they know less about one another. 

Though the Stage Manager concludes reflecting on how much has ultimately stayed the same in Grover's Corners, he understates the two seeds of change that are in fact, potentially drastic: urbanization and privacy. 

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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