Our Town

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Themes and Colors
The Theater Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
The Everyday and the Ordinary Theme Icon
Marriage and the Family Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Continuity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Our Town, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Community Theme Icon

Our Town revolves around the community of the classic American small town of Grover’s Corners. The town is characterized by its small size, closeness, and familiarity. Everyone there knows each other (which is occasionally cause for town gossip) and goes to the same schools and churches. The town is filled with features of early twentieth century Americana, from the ice cream sodas George and Emily order at the local drugstore to the importance of baseball to the town’s youth. The title of the play emphasizes the importance of community: the town belongs to all those who live there and share it. And those who live in Grover’s Corners rarely leave. The same families have been living in the town and burying their dead in the same cemetery for years, and most of the high school students there will eventually settle down in their home town. Even the dead don’t leave Grover’s Corners, as we see in act three with the deceased characters lingering around the town cemetery.

Wilder’s play is in many ways an ode to these kinds of classic American small towns—a dying breed in the twentieth century—as he lovingly documents their quirks and features, like the local milkman (Howie Newsome) bringing milk to everyone’s door. However, the play’s stance toward such a local community can be seen as slightly more ambiguous. The small-town atmosphere of Grover’s Corners can also be suffocating. There is something troubling about the spirits of the dead simply lingering around the town, whose magnetic pull keeps George from exploring his talents in baseball or even going to agricultural college. Emily is extremely gifted and talented in school, but she never pursues any further education, opting to settle down with George at a young age. People seem content to stay in Grover’s Corners, but this lack of ambition can also be seen as a negative thing. Mrs. Gibbs, for example, dreams of seeing Paris one day, and speaks of the value of traveling and seeing some of the world: “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,” she tells Dr. Webb in act one. Thus, while Wilder paints a loving portrait of small-town America, he also subtly points to some of its limitations. The play’s stance toward Grover’s Corners and its citizens is split between a nostalgia for simpler times and a knowing pretension toward the community’s isolated, occasionally naïve members.

Community ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Community appears in each act of Our Town. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Community Quotes in Our Town

Below you will find the important quotes in Our Town related to the theme of Community.
Act 1 Quotes

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. 

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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.

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. 

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

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.