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George Gibbs is the high school hero of Grover's Corners; he is the champion pitcher of the baseball team and president of his senior class. Unfortunately, his successes go to his head. He begins to act in a conceited way and ignores his family and friends for baseball. It is Emily Webb, his neighbor and future wife, who makes him see the errors of his way.
In many ways, George is a typical teenage boy. He does not like to help with the chores around the house and often lets his mother do things that he should be doing. He finds school hard and constantly asks Emily, the brightest girl in class, for help on his homework, especially in algebra. He fights with his younger sister, even throwing soap at her. He is a bit disorganized, ordering sodas for Emily and himself and then realizing he has no money to pay for them. He is also worried about his limited funds and begs his mother to talk to his dad about increasing his allowance from a quarter a week to fifty cents a week. He also has a developing interest in girls, especially Emily Webb. In the first act, he carries her books home, buys her a soda, and tells her he loves her.
Like Emily, George is sometimes a dreamer. He wants to be a farmer and believes if he goes and works for his Uncle Luke, a farmer, instead of going to college, he will some day inherit the farm and be successful. Also like Emily, he is very nervous on the day of his marriage. He is not sure that he is ready to accept the responsibilities of being a husband and worries that he is growing old. His mother, Mrs. Gibbs, tells him that she is ashamed of his last minute change of heart; her scolding is enough to make George realize that he only has the last minute jitters.
In the last act, George is only seen once; but Emily clearly indicates that he has been a good husband, father, and farmer. One of the most touching moments in the entire play is when he comes to her grave on the night of her funeral. Stricken with grief over the loss of his wife, he throws himself on the grave and weeps. Emily, who has revisited earth and returned to the cemetery, can only exclaim that George understands so little about death or life.
The Stage Manager is an unusual creation in Wilder's play; he serves as the narrator, the master of ceremonies, a choric voice, and a character playing various roles. His omnipresence throughout helps to unify this unique drama.
At the beginning of the play, the Stage Manager is assigned the task of ridiculing typical theatrical conventions. He keeps reminding the audience that they are in a real theater watching a fictitious drama. He also adds some scenery and props to the barren stage for those in the audience who feel that they need some. In talking directly to the audience about what he thinks and what he is doing, he establishes a rapport, much like a Greek chorus in classical drama. He also disseminates a great deal of Background Information for the play.
The Stage Manager defines the setting of the town, giving details about the appearance of Grover's Corners. He also introduces characters and tells a little bit about them. At times he even tells what is to happen to the characters in the future, seemingly unbound by time or space. For instance, during the play he points at Doc Gibbs and says he will die in 1930; he adds that a hospital will be constructed in his memory. In addition to giving flashforwards, the Stage Manager also gives numerous flashbacks. He is the one that narrates the tale of how George and Emily became a couple.
In Act II, the Stage Manager becomes a philosopher. He comments on the action that takes place on the stage and gives his opinions about life and death, which are really those of Thornton Wilder. He also plays the roles of Mr. Morgan, the pharmacist, and the minister at the wedding. In Act III, the Stage Manager becomes increasingly vocal about his ideas, often answering the questions posed to him by characters in the play. He also cautions Emily about going back to earth and states that she is sure to be disillusioned. When she is ready to return to the land of the dead, she turns to the Stage Manager and asks him to take her back to the hill. From the beginning of the play to the very end, the Stage Manager steers the direction of the drama, interacts with the characters, plays various roles, and guides the audience to a better understanding of the theme. Most importantly, he holds the play together by his omnipresence.