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
Marriage and the Family Quotes in Our Town
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.
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.
And how do you think I felt!—Frank, weddings are perfectly awful things. Farces,—that’s what they are!
Yes... people are meant to go through life two by two. ’Tain’t natural to be lonesome.
Don’t you misunderstand me, my boy. Marriage is a wonderful thing,—wonderful thing. And don’t you forget that, George.
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.
Oh, I’ve got to say it: you know, there’s something downright cruel about sending our girls out into marriage this way.
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?