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.
Marriage and the Family Theme Icon

The town of Grover’s Corners is built on the smaller community of the family. The family unit is the building block of the town, where the same family names can be found on tombstones in the town cemetery going back many years. The first act of Our Town focuses mostly on two homes, those of the Gibbs and the Webbs, where the central family structure can be seen, with husband, wife, and children. Marriage is the essential union of two people that creates this family unit.

The second act of the play is centered around the creation of a new family through the marriage of George and Emily. Mr. Webb stresses to George that he is a firm believer in the importance of marriage, and Mrs. Gibbs insists that “people are meant to go through life two by two.” However, characters in the play also regard the institution of marriage more negatively at times. Both Emily and George panic as their wedding draws near, and Emily tells her father that she does not want to get married. This is partly because marriage means growing up and leaving the comfortable family structure she is used to. While George and Emily come around to marrying each other, some doubts about marriage linger in the play. Mrs. Webb says at one point that “there’s something downright cruel about sending our girls into marriage this way,” and Mrs. Gibbs calls wedding ceremonies “perfectly awful things,” and “farces.”

Moreover, marriages in Our Town tend to place wives in somewhat submissive roles. While Dr. Gibbs and Mr. Webb are loving husbands, they tend to exert some kind of control over their wives or at least have the final word in their marriages. We see this especially when Dr. Gibbs continually squashes any discussion his wife wants to have about traveling outside of Grover’s Corners or his taking a vacation from work. Nonetheless, as the ultimately happy union between George and Emily suggests, Wilder presents marriage as a beneficial institution, the fundamental building block of both the family and the town community, even if there are tragic or imperfect undertones in the play’s marriages.

Marriage and the Family ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Our Town related to the theme of Marriage and the Family.
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.  

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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.

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.

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). 

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.