The stage manager announces that three years have passed since act one. He says that the first act was called “the Daily Life” and this act will be “Love and Marriage.” It is the morning of July 7, just after the local high school graduation. Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb enter their respective kitchens to make breakfast. The stage manager emphasizes that in their lives these women cooked three meals per day every day, raised children, washed clothes, and cleaned their houses.
The play jumps forward in time in order to heighten the sense of things rapidly changing and life passing and children growing up too fast. The title of the act shows how important marriage is to the community, as it joins people together to form families. The breakfast scene, in its similarities to act one, shows the routine quality of the families’ everyday lives.
Howie Newsome comes along Main Street, delivering milk as in act one. He runs into Si Crowell, Joe’s younger brother who now delivers the newspaper in Grover’s Corners. Si says it’s too bad that the town’s best baseball player, George Gibbs, is giving up baseball to get married. Constable Warren enters and talks with Si about the recent rain the town’s been having, before he and Si leave.
Howie Newsome’s milk delivery is a reassuring sign of continuity, of things staying the same in Grover’s Corners. Si is an example of how things change in some ways, but remain the same in other ways over time. The morning begins with the milkman and a paperboy, as usual, but the paperboy has changed and is now Si instead of his brother Joe.
Howie delivers some milk to Mrs. Gibbs and offers his best wishes for George’s 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 house and Mrs. Gibbs tells him that she is worried about George getting married so young and feels like crying.
The quick transition from George and Emily’s childhood in act one to their marriage in act two underscores the quick passage of time, as does Mrs. Gibbs’ crying at George getting married so young and growing up so soon. But Mrs. Gibbs' tears can also be taken as recognition of the ways that marriage is also limiting, how it cuts off opportunities even as it creates new ones.
Dr. Gibbs recalls Mrs. Gibbs’ and his wedding, saying that he was scared and nervous. Mrs. Gibbs says she was too and tells him that “weddings are perfectly awful things,” and “farces.” The two talk more about how strange it feels for George to be marrying already, but Mrs. Gibbs comments that “people are meant to go through life two by two.”
The Gibbs raise some hesitations about marriage, especially wedding ceremonies—which often give the impression that married life will be all easy and full of only joy—but ultimately still value the institution, as Mrs. Gibbs’ comment makes clear. Both parents are amazed at how quickly George is growing up.
George comes downstairs and tells his parents that he is heading over to the Webb household. He 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 goes upstairs to make sure Emily doesn’t come down and tells George to have a cup of coffee with Mr. Webb.
Mrs. Webb’s superstition about the groom not seeing the bride on the wedding day demonstrates the small-town, traditional community of Grover’s Corners.
After a long, awkward silence, George and Mr. Webb talk about the wedding. George says he wishes they didn’t have to have a big ceremony, and Mr. Webb tells him that “every man that’s ever lived has felt that way about it.” But he says that he thinks marriage is “a wonderful thing.”
As with Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs, George and Mr. Webb’s hesitancy about marriage has to do with the big wedding ceremony, not marriage itself, which Mr. Webb whole-heartedly believes in.
Mr. Webb shares some advice that his own father gave him before his wedding: “Start out early showing who’s boss, he said. Best thing to do is to give an order, even if it don’t make sense; just so she’ll learn to obey.” He tells George that he did exactly the opposite of what his father told him and has had a happy marriage.
Mr. Webb offers his father’s advice jokingly, but husbands in the traditional families of Grover’s Corners do tend to boss their wives around to some degree, as with the Gibbs family. The traditional marriage that is so fundamental to the town’s community may be somewhat oppressive for wives.
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 wants to show them how George and Emily’s relationship began. He sets the scene for a flashback to when George has just been elected class president at the end of his junior year, while Emily has been elected secretary and treasurer. Emily and George enter, walking down main street after school.
The stage manager again disrupts the realism of the play, this time to jump backwards in time. Because of the play’s time-shifting, the audience watches this scene already knowing what will happen with George and Emily, and thus views their beginning romance with a tinge of nostalgia.
Emily and George talk, and George offers to carry Emily’s books. He asks her why she has been treating him strangely recently. Emily tells him that she has been disappointed by his behavior recently, because he’s become conceited, as “all the girls” at school agree. George thanks her for taking the time to alert him to a flaw in his character. Emily apologizes for telling him this, but he appreciates it and offers to buy her an ice cream soda.
Emily and George exemplify growing up in a small-town community, where neighbors like George and Emily have close relationships and one’s reputation throughout the community (in this case in the school community) is important.
Emily and George enter the local drugstore, where the stage manager plays Mr. Morgan, the owner of the store. He notices that Emily looks upset and asks what happened. George says that she was almost run over by a wagon on Main Street. Mr. Morgan bemoans the growth of the town, saying, “you’ve got to look both ways before you cross Main Street these days,” and worrying about the introduction of automobiles to the roads.
Adopting the role of Mr. Morgan, the stage manager continues to have an odd role both within and outside the fictional world of Grover’s Corners. The arrival of automobiles signals changing times for the small town.
George and Emily have ice cream sodas. George tells her that he is thankful to have a friend like her, and asks her to write him letters if he decides to go to State Agricultural College after high school. Emily doubts whether letters from Grover’s Corners would be very interesting, but George assures her he would always want to know everything going on in the town.
Emily doubts whether news from the uneventful Grover’s Corners would be interesting, but George assures her that he values the everyday occurrences of the town. Like George, the play insists on the importance of everyday moments.
George says that he has heard from some farmers that agricultural school is a waste of time, and he is debating going to work for his uncle right away and skipping agricultural college. He says that he doesn’t want to leave Grover’s Corners and doesn’t want to meet any new people.
George is comfortable and happy in Grover’s Corners, but his refusal to leave (or is it a fear of leaving?) can also be seen as having a limited perspective on life.
George tells Emily that he is glad that she spoke to him about his conceitedness and admits that he has been thinking about Emily for quite some time and has been trying to walk her home from school. He says that he has decided not to go to agricultural college, because he has found someone he is very fond of in Grover’s Corners, which is more important than schooling.
George decides not to broaden his horizons by experiencing life outside of Grover’s Corners. The audience’s temporal perspective (knowing that George and Emily will marry) makes this scene gently ironic, as we know they both care for each other romantically before they do.
George offers to walk Emily home, but embarrassingly doesn’t have any money on him to pay for the ice cream sodas. The stage manager (still “Mr. Morgan”) trusts George to go get money from home and bring it back. George and Emily walk home. The stage manager stops acting as Mr. Morgan and announces that they are now ready to show George and Emily’s wedding. Stagehands remove the chairs and tables from the stage and arrange a minimalist set suggesting a church interior.
Mr. Morgan’s trusting George to go get money from home is another example of small-town life. The stage hands arranging things on stage during the play continues the play’s project of blurring the lines between the real world of the theater (with stage hands and a stage manager) and the fictional world of the play.
The stage manager says that he will play the minister at the wedding. He speaks about the importance of marriage, agreeing with Mrs. Gibbs that “people were made to live two-by-two.” The wedding ceremony begins and Mrs. Webb speaks to the audience, saying she doesn’t know why she is upset, but that “there’s something downright cruel about sending our girls out into marriage,” at a young age with no knowledge of married life.
While aware of the fact that all the citizens of Grover’s Corners are acting in a play, the stage manager again plays a role within the fictional town. The play continues to be slightly ambivalent about marriage: the stage manager agrees with Mrs. Gibbs about its importance, but Mrs. Webb feels some remorse at having Emily marry so young and without having a true perspective about what being married entails. Of course, Mrs. Gibb's could have discussed this with her daughter, but never did.
As George walks toward the altar, a group of baseball players from his team whistles and teases him, calling him “old geezer.” Mrs. Gibbs notices that George looks troubled up at the altar and goes to talk to him. He tells her that he doesn’t want to grow old but she comforts him and tells him he’s a man now. Then she begins to cry, and George comforts her, telling her that he and Emily will come to dinner every Thursday.
The baseball players represent the innocent, carefree childhood that George must inevitably leave behind as he grows up. Mrs. Gibbs comforts him but is herself upset at George growing up. The passage of time affects everyone in the play, young or old.
Emily enters, but is frightened. The choir begins to sing “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.” Mr. Webb tries to comfort Emily, who says that she hates George and wishes she were dead. She asks why she can’t “stay for a while just as I am,” and wants to remain her father’s girl. Mr. Webb reassures Emily and calls George over.
Emily is also unnerved by the idea of growing up, so much so that she says she doesn’t want to marry George and even hates him. The hymn takes on an almost menacing tone here, as Emily will inevitably be bound to George by the tie of marriage, even if she would rather remain a child.
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 says all she wants is somebody to love her. The wedding ceremony takes place and Mrs. Soames, who is attending, exclaims that it is the loveliest wedding she’s ever seen.
Despite all of the reticence about George and Emily growing up and getting married, the play is ultimately optimistic about marriage. Emily and George’s union is, at its core, about their mutual love for each other.
The stage manager says that he’s performed hundreds 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.
The stage manager’s comment emphasizes the ordinariness of most weddings. But, the play seems to suggest that ordinary events are the ones most worth cherishing. The stage manager’s announcement that the second act is over again emphasizes the play as a fictional piece of theater.