In his theatrical masterpiece, Our Town, Thornton Wilder dramatically focuses on three essential stages of human life, namely birth, marriage, and death. The first part of the play describes the daily lives of human people in a family or a community. The second act highlights the importance of relationships/companionship among people, while in the last scene, Wilder concentrates on the theme of death. Whereas the first two acts of the play may evoke happiness and laughter in the audience, the last act elicits sorrow and may draw tears in an emotional person. Death is inevitable, however, Simon Stimson’s speech and the tragic end of the play enlighten the society about the importance of appreciating each other in our daily lives.
Although most people fear the cemetery, the sight of a corpse and ghosts/devil Wilder includes these elements in his play. Therefore, if any dead person resurfaces among the living, the society associates him/her with evil. Despite the aforementioned facts, why does Wilder include a cemetery or death in the last scene? Wilder emphasizes on the death and eternity to propel the audience to appreciate life. Emily is one of the main characters in the play. Unfortunately, at the end of the play, she dies due to complications arising from childbirth. Through the spirit of Emily, Wilder calls upon people to cherish every step, activity, and person in their lives.
For example, Emily realizes after her death that her parents were beautiful. Therefore, her decision to appreciate their beauty seems futile because she is a spirit during the time of this realization. Similarly, Emily’s mother is too busy to value her life, even on the day of her daughter’s birthday. Due to disappointment, Emily says, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute” (Wilder Act III)? Therefore, Wilder uses Emily’s spirit to urge people to cherish and be grateful for being alive-during their lifetime. Furthermore, Wilder cautions people against embracing their daily activities or daily routine that they forget to appreciate little occasions in their lives. Although Emily’s mother is a good woman who struggles to accomplish her role as a wife, she fails to embrace the simple happiness that human beings encounter.
Emily is unhappy with the way people on earth conduct their everyday lives. According to her, although time is a valuable asset in human life, people (the living) lack the spirit of gratefulness. Sadly, all these things pass unnoticed to them. Likewise, all the other characters that appear, as dead people in the last act, are aware of how living people in contemporary society, devalue time and happiness. Consequently, they had cautioned Emily against revisiting the earth. Therefore, Emily is like a mirror to society, Wilder uses her to ask the audience or society to change their behavior or lifestyle.
Wilder uses the last act, especially Emily’s behavior, after death to shows that most people on earth value life after losing it. However, this enlightenment only dawns on them when there is not time to rectify their failures. The major irony is that some of them like Emily resort to sobbing due to bitterness. Before her spirit leaves the earth, she says, “Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize… Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it” (Wilder Act III)? This acts as the evidence of her regrets for being ungrateful while alive. In addition, the stage manager also cautions people about carrying out their activities in haste. Most people are after money, education, or wealth, and in the process, they forget about their families, friends, and children, among others. People should learn to share light moments with each other more so in their relationships.
In reality, Simon Stimson is an alcoholic choirmaster. After his death, he gives a speech showing disappointment in the social lives of people on earth. According to him, “people move about in a cloud of ignorance” (Wilder Act III), which shows that oppression, inhumanity, and evil are some of the common aspects of human behavior on earth. Most people on earth not only lack the virtue of compassion but also lack respect for human life. On the other hand, the oppressed people are unable to retaliate because of fear and lack of effort to value their lives. Simon Stimson says, “Human existence is nothing but ignorance and blindness” (Wilder Act III).
This statement proves his dissatisfaction with the way of life of people on earth. Although Simon Stimson is correct in his philosophy about life, his actions, behavior, and crude way of life might make the audience or reader disapprove of his assertion. Besides, being an alcoholic, he voluntarily committed suicide to end anguish in his life. While on earth, he turns to alcoholism as the only way to forget about his troubles. Actually, a person who had interacted with him in real life will not accept to follow his advice. However, the critical consideration of Simon Stimson’s speech in the contemporary world proves that he is right. The world is full of greedy people whose aim is to oppress the poor. Most people are after wealth, and in the process of acquiring what they need, they not only stumble on the less fortunate but also kill some of them. Political upheavals, civil wars, and social injustice/inhumanity on earth are on the rise because of greed. Despite being a drunkard, Simon Stimson secretly observed the inhumanity that prevailed on earth. Finally, Simon’s words are like a wakeup call for the oppressed people or communities.
Wilder’s decision to include death and inhumanity in the last scenes does not evoke depression in the audience but rather gives them insights about life. His play describes human nature in three stages, birth, life, and death. He includes the hymn, “Blessed be the tie that binds” (Wilder Act II) to put emphasis on life. Analysis of Wilder’s play shows that an adult’s life encompasses relationships, education, and amassing wealth, but people should also value their happiness. Of all the three, only the relationship’s human connection seems more vital because Mr. Gibbs says, “Tain’t natural to be lonesome” (Wilder Act II); however, wilder compel people to find happiness and love during their daily lives. Therefore, by focusing on the lifestyle of his characters before death, he calls upon society to live happily and to appreciate all that life offers. Both Emily and Simon Stimson live different lives on earth, but they rate the people of the earth in the same fashion. While a drunkard (Simon Stimson) can note that inhumane activities are on the increase, a well-educated girl from a rich family (Emily) also notes that people on earth lack the spirit of appreciation.