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 Everyday and the Ordinary Quotes in Our Town
Nice town, y’know what I mean? Nobody very remarkable ever come out of it, s’far as we know.
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.
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.
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.
No!—At least, choose an unimportant day. Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough.
Do human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?