Out Town is a poignant three-act play by American playwright Thorton Wilder. It was written in 1938 about American citizens living in Grover’s Corners (a fictional town in New Hampshire near Massachusetts) between 1901-1913.
While the town is imagined, the play often reminds me of America today. That is, what we as Americans tend to identify as “normal folks” going about our “normal business”, slightly invested in each other by way of generalities, heresay, innuendos, rumors and accusations about the lives of others. At the end of Act One, Wilder* brings home – to our very doorsteps, the limitations of viewing the world through a peephole.
End of Act One: Rebecca: I never told you about the letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter and on the envelope that address was like this: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County: New Hampshire; United Stated of America. George: What’s funny about that? Rebecca: But listen, it’s not finished: the United States of America, Continent of North America: Western Hemisphere: the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe: the Mind of God - that’s what it said on the envelope. George: What do you know? Rebecca: And the postman brought it just the same. George: What do you know! Stage Manager: That’s the end of the First Act, friends. You can go and smoke now, those that smoke. * Author: Thorton Wilder Our Town - Play in Three Acts - 1938 & 1965 HarperCollins Publishers
Open-mindedness, benevolent attitudes and inclusivity are not guaranteed to be taught, mentored and learned as members of a family, school, native region, religious sect or as member of a profession. In 1938 or 2022, knowledge, transparency and veracity are lethal to racism, sexism, xenophobia and narrow-mindedness.
This is why it is wise to often examine how we were raised, schooled and influenced throughout our crucial developmental years when the formation of thinking, language, attitudes, values and predispositions were imprinted regarding identity, difference and otherness. To occupy an unexamined space and time by choice with absolute notions of righteousness, in one small corner of the earth, is to not live but merely exist and perish without significance.
It’s at the very end of the play that the Stage Manager is asked by the ghost of 12 year old Emily if anyone truly understands the value of life while they live it, he responds, “No. The saints and poets, maybe – they do some.”
Emily returns to her grave next to Mrs. Gibbs and watches impassively as George kneels weeping over her. The Stage Manager concludes the play and wishes the audience a good night. And so each of us return to our towns . . . major lenses of how we view each other and the world we walk upon.
Our towns . . . molding and framing our humanity.