by Thornton Wilder provides the richest reading in the unit. It blends comic and tragic elements while dealing with issues we will encounter later in other works and in our discussions. I will begin the unit with this play because it does help bring the pieces together, to give a clearer definition of “family”, to raise once again issues of concern to adolescents: parental relations, love, death, the future. This play quite literally embodies life in miniature. Because
represents what I want the entire unit to be about, I will focus my research and writing on this play. I will write about
as the embodiment of its author’s views on, among other things, time, culture, and the theatre, and the family.
The individual acts of the play and the simple human activities give us the schedule and rhythm of life in “our town.” Act One presents the Gibbs and Webb families living self-contained, parallel lives side by side. We view and identify with a time of bustling activity: getting ready to face a new day, doing chores, catching up on family news, confronting problems, rehearsing hymns, doing homework, falling in love. Act One closes with a shift from the particular to the universal, in which the characters and the audience become aware of the beauty and comfort of Nature, as well as the boundlessness of the Universe.
Students encounter issues which concern them as family members and as adolescents. In general, the issues mentioned are only touched on; it is incumbent upon the teacher to expand them. Among the issues raised in Act I are: the importance of education; the development of a sense of responsibility to one’s family; parent-child disagreements; concern with physical appearance and the concomitant changes adolescents undergo; the establishment of rules and the observation of traditions in a family; the aspirations of parents and children; the ties that bind one to home and family; the pleasures family life can offer. The Stage Manager underscores and occasionally expands the points raised.
Act Two links the Gibbs and Webb families by the wedding of their older children to each other. A lasting bond has been created. The difficulty parents face in “letting go” of their children suffuses this act. Students often feel parents (and teachers) treat them as babies and usually respond with humor to this strand of the family theme. George and Emily’s first “serious” conversation is beautifully portrayed; it points out the difficulties of giving voice to feelings. The conversation also marks the coming-of-age for the two characters. Modeling oneself after one’s parents, or living one’s life in opposition to their advice, is also touched on. Again, the importance of the family and its traditions are paramount.
Act Three presents the time beyond death. Emily is present at her own burial and speaks with the deceased. Emily is uneasy: she is not yet at peace, as are the souls she is with. Having revisited a moment in her life, Emily returns feeling that absorption in everyday cares blinds people to true living.
“Blessed Be the Tie That Binds,” a hymn which is sung in all three acts, is most poignant and telling here. The importance of really looking at and connecting with people—family, lovers, friends—is again underscored.
humanity is bound by the past, the present, and the future. Human beings, much like the star we live on, are straining to move from what we are to what we can become.