Our Town

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The Everyday and the Ordinary Theme Analysis

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.
The Everyday and the Ordinary Theme Icon

In act one, Wilder chooses to tell the story of a perfectly ordinary day, when nothing particularly exciting or extraordinary happens. While acts two and three represent significant occasions (a wedding and a funeral), they are important events in the lives of ordinary people. The play could just have easily have been written about other inhabitants of Grover’s Corners, or about the people of some other small town. In act one, Dr. Gibbs asks the paperboy Joe Crowell if there is anything important in the newspaper, and the biggest news that Crowell can relay is that a schoolteacher is getting married. Nothing particularly newsworthy happens in Grover’s Corners and even the characters themselves recognize the unremarkable nature of their town. In act one, Mr. Webb tells the audience that it is a “very ordinary town, if you ask me. Little better behaved than most. Probably a lot duller.” And when George is considering going off the agricultural college and asks Emily to write him, she doubts whether letters from Grover’s Corners would be very interesting.

And yet, Wilder’s play insists on the importance of the everyday, the typical, and the average. George tells Emily, “The day wouldn’t come when I wouldn’t want to know everything that’s happening here.” By even writing a play entirely about everyday occurrences, Wilder makes a statement that these ordinary things are valuable and worth preserving in art and literature. One reason for this is supplied by the stage manager. While thinking about the town’s time capsule, he notes that we know nothing of the everyday lives of people from the distant past. Epochal events and great leaders of history do nothing to suggest the particular, unique experiences of everyday individuals.

Our Town, by contrast, preserves such information. And when the deceased Emily revisits her childhood in act three, the other deceased characters encourage her to pick an ordinary day. As the cemetery in act three demonstrates, we all die. What gives an individual’s life significance in the grand scheme of things is in the little details of a life, the specific, everyday things that make one life different from another and make our individual experiences unique. There may be nothing exciting in the town newspaper of Grover’s Corners, but Wilder ultimately suggests that the most important things in life aren’t necessarily the things that end up on the front page.

The Everyday and the Ordinary ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Our Town related to the theme of The Everyday and the Ordinary.
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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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.

Act 2 Quotes

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.

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. 

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.