The Stage Manager welcomes the audience into the theater as he introduces the people and places of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Grover’s Corners is the perfect picture of an American town before urbanization – automobiles are a novelty, everyone is up in each other's business, and milk is still delivered fresh every morning. After an overview of the town, the Stage Manager zeroes in on two neighboring families: the Gibbs family and the Webb family. Each household has two children (a boy and a girl). We witness some childish interactions between Emily Webb and George Gibbs. The two are friends.
By the second act, three years have passed, and friendship has blossomed into love. George and Emily are about to get married. The Stage Manager isn’t particularly thrilled; he says few weddings are interesting. We are taken back to the day when Emily and George first vocalized their mutual interest over strawberry ice cream sodas.
The third act takes place in the town cemetery. Emily has died in childbirth, and she joins other deceased members of Grover’s Corners. As soon as the funeral is over, Emily realizes that she can relive her life, and decides to return to the morning of her twelfth birthday – despite warnings from her fellow dead that it’s a terrible idea. Emily soon realizes that they’re correct. Death has brought Emily a heightened awareness of life; it is too painful for Emily to watch living people who take their time for granted. Emily returns to the cemetery where George is crying over her grave.