Our Town delivers a message for how we should live our lives: to the fullest. We should appreciate every moment because we never get a second chance. The play jumps from Emily’s wedding day to her funeral in the blink of an eye, emphasizing the idea that our lives are fleeting.
The prominence of mundane, ordinary occurrences in Our Town reflects the idea that life is not to be cherished only for its big events, but for day-to-day living.
From the very beginning of the play, death is present in the Stage Manager’s narration. He makes it clear that the events we’re about to witness are told in retrospect, and this understanding casts a pall over the everyday occurrences we witness. The characters onstage (with the exception of the deceased Emily) do not recognize the brevity of their lives.
Our Town’s brevity as a play reflects it's deeper point regarding the brevity of life.
Marriage in Our Town is shown as a big step, the penultimate moment of a young person’s life. Love and companionship are prized as giving meaning to life. Yet marriage in Our Town is not entered into lightly, as we see when Mr. and Mrs. Webb reminisce over the early days of their marriage, and when George and Emily have their moments of hesitation.
Weddings in Our Town do not indicate success or failure of the actual marriage.
In Our Town, love is centered on the family: marital love, fatherly love, etc. Love is an integral part of the characters’ lives, although sometimes they may take it for granted. The love that infuses their lives only strengthens the tragedy of death.
Our Town has a very one-dimensional view of how love operates.
Despite the universal themes of Our Town, its setting in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire does anchor it in a very particular slice of America. More specifically, as Our Town takes place in small-town, turn-of-the-century America, it offers us a very particular vision of American life: you take your date to a soda shop, milk is delivered fresh every morning, fathers dispense allowances, and mothers take care of the household. Drinking is limited to town drunks, and sex before marriage is a huge no-no.
The town of Grover’s Corners is a character in Our Town whose development mirrors the development of Emily and George.
Friendship in Our Town plays second fiddle to family and romance. While this is evident when George and Emily’s friendship blossoms into romance, friendship also serves an important role in illuminating some of the characters’ thoughts. (Being a play, we must hear thoughts being voiced, instead of merely reading them on the page.) For example, we learn only through friendly conversation that Mrs. Gibbs wishes to travel, and that Simon Stimson is an alcoholic.
Friendship plays a minimal but essential role in Our Town.
In Our Town, gender roles are very traditional. None of the women or men breaks from the mold: mothers take care of the house and children, fathers work and dispense allowances. The schoolteacher quits teaching once she gets married.
The traditional gender roles in Our Town reinforce the idea of Our Town as an outdated play with no resonance for our time.
Despite the traditional gender roles in Our Town, the play still has enormous relevance for our time.
Our Town contains two pivotal choices. The first is when George forgoes vocational school in favor of marriage to Emily. This decision can be viewed in various ways: the triumph of love over career, the sacrifice love requires, etc. Regardless, it is an important choice in the play. The second pivotal choice is Emily’s decision to relive her past despite the warnings of other dead people. Her decision calls attention to the play’s biggest theme: that of life’s transience.
The range of choices for the characters in Our Town is tightly circumscribed and therefore limits the play’s world.
We are given the religious demographics of Grover’s Corners: ninety-seven percent of the citizens are Christian. Religiosity plays a minor role in Our Town as the ethical and moral backdrop underlining the way Grover’s Corners citizens live their lives.
Despite what the statistics tell us, religion in Our Town is actually deeply ambiguous.
In Our Town, the abuse of alcohol is used to illuminate the dark side of small town life. Other than a brief attempt by Mr. Webb, no one reaches out to Simon Stimson (the town drunk). Instead, Simon’s antics are a source of gossip for the town. His presence in the play serves to show that not everything is peachy in Grover’s Corners.
Simon Stimson’s problem with alcohol shows that even small towns are not utopias.
Because the play spans thirteen years during the turn-of-the-century and centers on a small town, we "see" modernizing influences: people are locking their doors at night, buying automobiles, etc. Our Town makes it clear, however, that modernization doesn’t actually change the heart of the town. This is in keeping with one of the larger messages of the play: modernization may continue, but mortality and love will never change.
The encroachment of modernity has close to no impact on what truly matters in Grover’s Corners.
The encroachment of modernity functions in Our Town as a mechanism for showing the rapid pace of time.