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Our Town

Scheduled broadcast: Sunday, October 5, 2003
(Confirm with your local station)

Thornton Wilder's most famous and most frequently performed play, this Pulitzer Prize-winning drama examines the circle of daily life, love and marriage, and death in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, at the turn of the century.


Discussion Questions

Our Town
by Thornton Wilder (1938)

  1. In Act I, the Stage Manager refers to a time capsule that's being created for people a thousand years from now so they will know "this is the way we were...at the beginning of the twentieth century." It can be argued that the play itself serves as a time capsule. Do you agree or disagree? How has life changed since the turn of the early 20th century? For instance, how have customs such as graduations, marriages, or funerals changed? What items would you put in a time capsule for others to find? What could people learn from finding them?

  2. How significant is the setting in Our Town? Could this play have taken place anywhere or at any time? Why do you think Wilder set Our Town in small town New Hampshire? Does the play accurately depict small town America at the turn of the century? Could it be set in a big city? Another country? What would the play gain or lose in those settings? Are the characteristics of the people and the town of Grover's Corners universal? If so, how?

  3. In Act III of Our Town, Emily decides to revisit one day in her life. She chooses a day that is somewhat happy and somewhat ordinary -- the day of her twelfth birthday. If you could relive a time in your past, what would you choose and why? Knowing what you know now, would you want to relive a special occasion, or just return to an ordinary day?

  4. How does Wilder portray what happens after death? What is your interpretation of Act III? The Stage Manager says the characters who have died "stay here while the earth part of 'em burns away, burns out ... Aren't they waitin' for the eternal part in them to come out clear?" Do you think that is what they are waiting for? What other films, books, or plays include scenes that take place after a character has died. Why do you think so many books and films about death are comedies?

  5. Who do you think the Stage Manager is? Is he God? Is he a ghost? How does Paul Newman play him in the broadcast? What information does the audience learn about the Stage Manager as the play progresses? Can you imagine the production without him? How would that change the play?

  6. Does the lack of props and scenery add to or detract from the play? Why do you think Wilder made this choice? How do you feel this translates to screen? Why do you think the director chose to film Our Town as a stage production?

© WGBH Educational Foundation 2003

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