Summary and Analysis
The Stage Manager waits until everyone is seated and then states that three years have passed since Act I. He philosophizes that almost everybody in the world gets married. Act I, he says, was called "Daily Life " This act is called "Love and Marriage " The time of Act II is early morning on July 7, 1904, just after the high school commencement. As in Act I, the 5:45 rumbles through town, bound for Boston.
The stage is about the same. Mrs. Gibbs' garden is on one side and Mrs. Webb's on the other, each drenched with heavy rain. As in the first act, the two women come down to make breakfast in their respective kitchens. In the Stage Manager's assessment of the women's lives: "They brought up two children apiece, washed, cleaned the house — and never a nervous breakdown ".
Although the Stage Manager did not explain in the first act that it was called "Daily Life," he makes that fact clear at the beginning of Act II. He also reveals that the focus of Act II is love and marriage. To be more specific, the first act featured not only daily life but also birth. He does not give a name for Act III, but he notes, "There's another act coming after this: I reckon you can guess what that's about " Thus, four themes take shape: birth, daily life, marriage, and death.
In Act I, Joe Crowell, Jr , complains that his teacher is getting married. Later, Simon Stimson mentions Jane Trowbridge's marriage as he prepares the choir for Fred Hersey's wedding. This triple reference to matrimony prepares the audience for the union of George and Emily, which is central to Act II. Likewise, the observation that "most everybody in the world climbs into their graves married" leads directly to the theme of Act III.
This intermingling of focus emphasizes an important aspect of the play: the lives of the characters cannot be dissected into single moments in which birth, love, marriage, and death are the only factors to be considered. Rather, the interweaving of the themes comprises the fabric of community life. At any one time, these concepts interplay, reflecting on each other in myriad ways. Occasionally, the Stage Manager interrupts or adds some detail that is especially memorable. In one speech, he describes how the two housewives have each fulfilled the usual duties of a wife and mother and never had a nervous breakdown. He implies that perhaps life in a small town is not beset with as many difficulties and neuroses as life in metropolitan areas. Another interpretation of Wilder's italics suggests that stereotypical "woman's work" at the turn of the century was predictable, repetitious, and not without its hazards.
Wilder's central concept takes a more definite shape in Act II. The Stage Manager makes loose reference to a line by an unnamed poet (actually Edgar Lee Masters, author of "Lucinda Matlock"): "You've got to love life to have life, and you've got to have life to love life " This idea develops into a significant statement in the last act — the need to appreciate all aspects of existence. The Stage Manager's comment about how the details form a "vicious cycle" prepares the viewer for the anguish experienced by the dead in Act III.