Critical Essays Language and Style in Our Town


Thornton Wilder was well-grounded in the classics, particularly in the areas of poetry and language. He had great respect for the medium of drama, particularly the use of dialogue as a means of expression. In his homage to theater in an interview conducted by Paris Review, Wilder said: "I regard the theater as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being. This supremacy of the theater derives from the fact that it is always 'now' on the stage " Even when he employs fantasy, his style reflects a classic sense of restraint, a subtle capturing of dialect, and the rhythms of everyday speech.

Throughout the play, the dialogue reads smoothly and convincingly. For example, as the Stage Manager describes the cemetery, he comments on patriotism: "New Hampshire boys . had a notion that the Union ought to be kept together. . And they went and died about it " Later, as he looks toward the close of the drama, he comments amiably, "Most everybody's asleep in Grover's Corners " This command of language is the result of a high degree of polish and a recognition of what is appropriate to the level of small-town characters.

Wilder's use of poetic imagery is carefully controlled throughout the play to insure a balance with the subject matter. Many of the images derive from nature, especially as it applies to rural life. For instance, Mrs. Webb comments on the location of Emily's blue hair ribbon: "If it were a snake it would bite you " In his evaluation of social aspects of Grover's Corners, Mr. Webb compares the situation to the separation of cream from milk: ". . I guess we're all hunting like everybody else for a way the diligent and sensible can rise to the top and the lazy and quarrelsome can sink to the bottom ".