by Thornton Wilder
Character Role Analysis
You might argue – and hey, no one’s stopping you – that Emily Webb is in no way a protagonist. She doesn’t slay a deadly dragon or save dying children. She doesn’t even have long extended monologues with herself. However, in response to your hypothetical argument that Emily is not a protagonist, we counter that Emily became a protagonist the moment she walked out of her grave and into her twelfth birthday. As we witness Emily’s emotional journey from longing for life to being content with her gravesite, we empathize with her realization that living people fail to cherish all the ordinary moments in life. Emily becomes the key figure of Our Town in Act III because it is the only time that the play focuses on a sole character as opposed to the town, or romance, or family. Yet in the context of Our Town, her experience is universal: we can infer that the other dead people have also tried to go back and stay in old, familiar lives. Thus we argue that Emily is actually a mere vessel whose personal journey is meant to illuminate everyone else’s. Doesn’t make her any less of a protagonist.