Abstract

No one hates Our Town. Its popularity is based largely on its supposedly simple display of the small-town values of acceptance and modesty. This article suggests that this notion—of a flawless and contented past—has always been useless and may now be fading away, at least in the minds and hearts of some of today’s undergraduates. In fact, Thornton Wilder’s play is brilliant because it uses simplicity to disguise wholesale misrepresentation, exaggeration, lies, sexism, xenophobia, cruelty, and rigid social control. In today’s world of widespread acceptance of lies for truth, it is bracing to notice Wilder’s (and Emily Webb’s) view of hypocrisy. Being alive is troubling and difficult enough, even when its everyday truth and beauty is right before our eyes. But when the parents, the neighbors, and the small-town government of Grover’s Corners manipulate truth to stay in power, everyone loses. The only solution, as Emily learns too late, is insistent Socratic questioning. That is, in every case, to ask: “What is this about, in the deepest sense?”

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