Our Town is a simple yet powerful production with inspiring scenes and dialogue that prompt audiences and readers to think about small town life in the early 1900s. Interestingly, Wilder deviates from traditional play elements by making the narrator the stage manager of a theater putting on the play; thus, Wilder creates a metatheatrical play within a play. It is important to discuss why Wilder would write a play in this manner and how this style affects the audience.

In teaching this play, it is also helpful to provide historical context. During the Great Depression, amidst the rising tensions in Europe shortly before World War II, Wilder aimed to address not the hidden secrets and hypocrisy of small towns, but the humanity that exists amid virtue and vice. In a time of fear and uncertainty, Wilder's focus on the overall stability and constancy of life uplifted audiences and caused his play to become an American classic.

As with any play, students will gain a fuller experience of the work if roles are divided and read by the class. Our Town is a very minimalist production with no set and few props, which makes it easy to read aloud or even perform in the classroom. By acting out the play instead of just reading the text, students will be more interested in and excited about the work.

Summary of Our Town

Key Facts

  • Length: 208 pages
  • Publication Date: 1938
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11 – 12
  • Pulitzer Prize (1938)
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival (1989)
  • Tony Award for Best Revival (1989)

The 1938 three-act play tells the story of a family within a small town in the early 1900s. The play is told as if the theater is partially the setting, with a stage manager as the narrator. He introduces characters and scenes, acts as some characters, and asks questions of the audience. There are also no props used in Our Town, which makes it an extremely unique play and one which was ahead of its time. The play follows a family in a small town before urbanization, with milkmen and tons of gossip, over a full lifetime of birth, love, and death.

What Your Students Will Love About Our Town

  • The beautifully written and impactful dialogue
  • The narrator's different parts and how he speaks directly to the audience

Potential Student Struggles With Our Town

  • Keeping track of all the characters
  • Huge lapses in time over the three acts
  • The small town vernacular

Learning Objectives for Our Town

  • Discuss the theme of people overlooking the beauty of life because they are caught up in routine.
  • Evaluate how Wilder shows that all people, past and present, share a common humanity.
  • Discuss how and why the set in this play departs from the traditional box set.
  • Explain how Wilder's characters are universal figures who serve to represent human nature in general.
  • Consider to what extent and why this play might be read as an allegory.
  • Identify and analyze the significance of the motif of time and how the passage of time is indicated.

Literary Elements in Our Town

  • Allegory
  • Flashback
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Juxtaposition
  • Magical Realism
  • Metatheatre
  • Setting
  • Symbolism

Major Themes in Our Town

Transcience of Time — Everyone within the play is strongly influenced by time, even the narrator, the stage manager, who loses track of time in some moments. The play's first act especially focuses on the importance of daily routines in small town lives, and its last act focuses on the quick passage of life into death.

Related Works:

Visions of America — The play's setting is placed right at the turn of the century in America. It highlights the importance of small-town regularities, such as soda shops, delivered milk, and strongly divided parental roles.

Related Works:

Marriage —  Love and marriage are given high importance and much dialogue within the play. Marriage is not only the biggest moment of the characters' lives, but what shapes the rest of their journey.

Related Works:

Other Resources for Our Town

Order Our Town Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
Our Town Paperback Student Edition
Our Town Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Our Town AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Our Town Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Our Town Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Our Town Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Our Town Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set