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A STEP BEYOND
TESTS AND ANSWERS
_____ 1. Wilder's main theme in Our Town is that
B. the small things in life are important
C. good triumphs over evil
C. the power structure
B. death was not the most important thing for humans to fear
C. life throughout the ages is the same
B. "I'll cry tomorrow"
C. "People were made to live two by two"
B. contemporary American drama
C. classic French drama
B. relationships between young people
C. small-town life
B. relax, watch the play, and have a good time
C. suffer the anguish of the situation along with the actors
B. strive to be heroic in their own lives
C. are blind to the beauty of life
B. representative of everyone's youth
C. in-depth studies of characters
11. Demonstrate the influence of the Greek drama on Wilder.
12. Discuss Our Town as an allegory.
13. Discuss Wilder's use of dual vision in Our Town.
14. Give three examples of Wilder's manipulation of time in the play. Explain why you think he manipulates time.
15. Why does Wilder use an almost empty stage for Our Town?
_____ 1. Wilder believed that "real life" was
B. basically political
C. a struggle for survival
C. thinly disguised political symbols
B. express her grief
C. not return to the living
B. visit her family for one day after she's dead
C. communicate with George after death
B. have the earth part burned out
C. hide from the living
B. can affect the future
C. understand what the living seldom can
B. an archaeological site
C. an imaginary place
B. did not want to limit the implications of the play
C. was trying to make a statement about poverty
B. most people believe in the eternal
C. people should be married in church
B. nature's love of humanity
C. man's relationship to the eternal
11. Discuss three of the most important themes in the play.
12. Why has Our Town remained so popular a play?
13. Define myth and explain why Our Town may be considered a myth.
14. Discuss Wilder's dependence on emotion rather than suspense to move the play forward.
15. In what ways did Wilder influence later dramatists?
11. Wilder was very interested in ancient Greek philosophy and drama, and you can see the Greek influence in Our Town. Wilder made use of the Stage Manager in much the same way that the ancient Greeks used the chorus on stage. The Greek chorus often gave background information, offered advice to the actors and the audience, foretold the future of characters, and knew all about the past. During the opening scene, the Stage Manager offers information to the audience about the characters and discusses the time and place in which the play is set. Much like the Greek chorus, he also comments on the action of the play. He suggests the importance of seeing life as beautiful, and near the play's climax offers advice to Emily. Greek drama was concerned with enlightening its audience about universal concerns, and Wilder has similar goals. Any deaths or tragedies that took place in Greek drama happened off stage. It was reported to have happened but never seen. We are informed of Emily's death and all of the others in the same way. The Stage Manager also plays several small parts in the play, just as members of the Greek chorus did.
12. A piece of literature is called an allegory when the characters, setting, and events represent abstract ideas. Allegory tries to create an interest in the characters, setting, and events being shown as well as in the abstract ideas it is attempting to convey. The characters in Our Town are not flesh-and- blood people but rather representative of experiences which all people have. For example, there is little to distinguish Mrs. Webb from Mrs. Gibbs. One woman could easily be substituted for the other without much change in the story. Each woman is intended to convey the idea of mother and wife and to stand for the experience of all women's lives. All of the characters in the play, and the story itself, can be understood in the same way.
13. Wilder's dual vision is seen throughout the play. He juxtaposes the vastness of the universe and the smallness of people. In Act I, Professor Willard discusses different archaeological ages. The birth of the twins is mentioned right after this. In Act II, before the Stage Manager marries Emily and George, he reminds the audience that millions and millions of people have been married. Wilder makes these contrasts not to show people as insignificant but rather to point out that the daily activities of an people in all times link humanity together. Wilder also has his characters comment about human events such as weddings. Some think weddings are awful, while others believe they are wonderful. Wilder understands that human life is a profound and complicated mixture of both wonderful and awful. For example, when war is discussed it is seen as both a noble cause and a foolish affair.
14. There are many instances of the manipulation of time in Our Town. In Act I, the Stage Manager tells the audience about the future deaths of characters in the play. In Act II, just before the wedding, Wilder uses a flashback to show how Emily and George fell in love. After Emily's death, she returns in time to her twelfth birthday. Wilder's purpose in manipulating time is to keep the audience from trying to watch Our Town as a realistic play about a certain girl and boy who grow up and fall in love. Instead, Wilder wanted the audience to realize that this love story was happening over and over throughout history. Our Town is Wilder's attempt to tell a universal tale that stands outside a particular time and place. By moving back and forth in time, the audience is able to drop the inclination to view the play in just one way.
15. Wilder was not interested in showing a particular town and the lives of certain people. He wanted to tell a universal story about life itself that encompassed all time and all places. He saw that each person, no matter when he or she lived, experienced birth, love, and death. Wilder attempted to convey that idea by using a bare stage. He felt that a set cluttered with realistic objects that attempted to create a real place, such as a Victorian home, would bind the story to that time and place. He used a bare stage to create a sense of the universal, allowing the audience to fill in whatever it wanted to imagine. For the same reason, the play requires hardly any props and the actors usually wear regular street clothing. Without anything extra on stage, the play transcends time and place.
11. Love is the strongest theme in the play. Wilder shows the power of, and need for, love among humans. He also demonstrates how people live almost oblivious to the importance of love relationships. It is only in death that people realize how much or how little they have loved someone and how irreversible that loss is. Every human relationship has some element of love to it. After Emily's death, she revisits earth on her twelfth birthday, only to realize the importance of the love she felt, not only for her mother but for everyone. Another very obvious theme is the continuity of human life. Everyone is born, grows older, falls in love, and dies. Birth, life, and death are seen as natural stages of a cycle that every person travels through. Each act in Our Town mentions birth and death and deals with an important aspect of being alive. This cycle relates all people throughout time to one another. Wilder believed that we do not appreciate the beauty of daily existence. In Act I, Editor Webb is asked what love of beauty and culture there is in Grover's Corners. He replies that there's not much, but that people do appreciate the sun coming over the mountains every morning and enjoy watching the birds. These seemingly small pleasures are, according to Wilder, the beauty of life that is most often not appreciated.
12. Our Town has remained an extremely popular play for several reasons. Simplicity of production is one. Because there is no need for an elaborate setting, no props or costumes, the play is inexpensive to produce. It is also a simple play to stage. Few stagehands are required, and if necessary the actors can rearrange the chairs and remove the furniture themselves. Wilder shows us ourselves as we would like to believe we can live our lives. Life in Our Town is simple and wholesome. Everyone, with the exception of Simon Stimson, is happy and good-natured. Wilder has also created a wonderful feeling of nostalgia by showing us a past we would like to believe was better. The combination of seeing life as we would like to think it is and feeling nostalgia for a lost time is perfect. Wilder shows us what we hope is ourselves, and most audiences like what they see.
13. A myth is a story that uses a supernatural event to explain a basic or natural truth that is commonly accepted. Our Town concerns the appreciation of life and being loved by other people. Wilder has Emily die and return to observe the middle of her young life, unseen by her family. It's only in this way that she comes to appreciate the importance of love and life. The play takes on mythical proportions during the final act when Emily takes a journey after her death. Because of Wilder's skill as a playwright, we are willing to believe in this supernatural event and be moved by it.
14. Most plays begin by introducing characters and a conflict. The suspense normally moves the play along. Wilder relies on a somewhat different method. In Our Town, there is relatively little conflict or suspense. Instead, Wilder deals with little moments that display the essence of what it is to be alive. In the first act we see George and Emily talking from their windows while the choir sings "Blessed Be the Tie that Binds" in the background. In Act II we watch special moments that usually happen before a wedding. We see a mother worrying about her son for the last time, a father trying not to give advice, a nervous groom and bride. The same hymn is used again. These little moments combined with the music draw us to the characters and encourage us to remember our own experiences. When we hear the same hymn for the third time at Emily's funeral, we cannot help but be moved. Each of these essential moments builds on the others toward an emotional climax.
15. Although Wilder's plays are very different from those of the Theater of the Absurd movement, he did influence writers like Edward Albee who were producing plays in the early 1960s. Wilder, though not a rebel like the absurdist playwrights, did experiment with new techniques on the stage. He was interested in breaking the restrictions and limitations of the realistic stage setting. He wanted his plays to concern more than just one time and place. He used the bare stage, minimal props, and no costumes to create this effect of timelessness. Wilder was also concerned more with concepts and language than with action. All of these ideas were incorporated into the absurdist movement. Albee acknowledges Wilder as a master of experiment in the theater and has imitated some of his methods.
TERM PAPER IDEAS AND OTHER TOPICS FOR WRITING
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