Summary and Analysis
Act II: Part 4
The Stage Manager removes his spectacles, claps his hands, and begins the wedding scene, in which he plays the role of minister. He comments that everything about a wedding cannot be represented, so he will include only a few details. As clergyman, he speaks about weddings in general and repeats Mrs. Gibbs' statement that "people were made to live two-by-two " The hero of this scene, he assures the audience, is nature. From marriages come more people and "every child born into the world is nature's attempt to make a perfect human being ".
Handel's "Largo" begins, the guests take their seats on the pews, and church bells sound. Mrs. Webb stops on the way to her seat and blurts out to the audience that it is terrible to send young girls into the cruel world without their knowing anything about marriage. She hopes that some of Emily's friends have enlightened her about what to expect.
Three of George's baseball teammates pass by and whistle and catcall to him, teasing him about his sexual innocence. The Stage Manager intercedes and good-naturedly pushes the boys offstage. He apologizes by saying that since Roman times there has been a lot of off-color innuendo connected with weddings, but now Grover's Corners is more civilized. "So they say," he adds. As the choir sings "Love Divine, All Love Excelling," George arrives and withdraws from the congregation. His mother goes to him. He tells her that he does not want to get old. Mrs. Gibbs sternly admonishes him for shaming her. They trade roles, with George comforting her and promising to bring Emily each Thursday night for dinner.
Meanwhile Emily appears dressed in traditional white. She calls to her "papa," who leaves his seat and advances toward her. She frightens him by expressing her dislike for George and her desire to go off with her father. She reminds him of how he used to say she was his girl. Mr. Webb calls George over and formally hands over his daughter. George and Emily embrace. The march from Lohengrin sounds. The wedding begins.
Mrs. Soames, a wedding guest, drowns out the couple's vows with shrill comments on the loveliness of the wedding. The minister ponders the two hundred couples he has married, who follow the pattern of home, family, approaching old age, and death. George and Emily exit to Mendelssohn's 'Wedding March " The Stage Manager notes, "That's all the Second Act, folks ".
When the stage manager speaks about the wedding, he tells the audience that he cannot include every detail. He chooses the most appropriate aspects and leaves the rest to the viewers' imaginations. This technique is a miniature of Wilder's approach to the whole play. He takes a few isolated events and universalizes them. The resulting scene is typical of weddings the world over — the nervous bride and groom, sympathetic parents, suggestive wedding jests, and benign comments from idealistic wedding guests.
For George and Emily, the wedding is the high point of their lives. For the viewer, however, it is just another small-town wedding with nothing to set it apart from other similar ceremonies. Mrs. Soames, who is the gushy type, makes heartfelt comments about the loveliness of the event, but her glowing remarks fail to convince the audience that there is anything unique about this particular wedding. As the minister concludes, "Once in a thousand times it's interesting ".
In Wilder's view of life, nature is the key factor in Act II. As he observes, people are born, grow up, marry, and then die. Thus marriage is a part of the natural order of things — a logical development in the process of living. Earlier, he spoke of the usual tendency of people to live by twos. Consequently, following the birth motif of Act I, the pairing of Emily and George follows quite naturally as the central image of Act II.
Mrs. Webb bemoans the fact that Emily knows so little of life. Her remarks prove prophetic in Act III, when Emily dies as a result of childbirth. Yet, the evolution of Emily's love for George, whom she has known all her life, seems a natural outgrowth of their childhood friendship, both to the young people and their parents. The tragedy of Emily's death is, like the joy of marriage, just a part of the life process.
It also seems natural that potential brides and grooms on the verge of matrimony experience last-minute hesitations — even though their love is well-founded. Wilder deftly works into this scene some of George's and Emily's last-minute fears. Both suddenly realize that they are exiting childhood, a time when they felt secure in parental warmth and protection. They pause before taking the final step into maturity. Yet, when they see each other, love pushes them over the threshold. At the end of the scene, Mrs. Soames' inane chatter drowns out the ceremony. The wedding is condensed into the single vow from George, "I do ".
Winding up the scene, the Stage Manager comments that he, as a minister, has joined thousands of couples. He notes that millions of marriages have taken place. Wilder causes us to see this wedding as a commonplace event — a single episode in a long series of matings. As he sums up, "The cottage, the go-cart, the Sunday-afternoon drives in the Ford, the first rheumatism, the grandchildren, the second rheumatism, the death-bed, the reading of the will — " The natural progression seems unstoppable. Wilder's insistence on the rightness of marriage as a normal, commonplace expectation of life blends with the next act, in which he shows the importance of trivial things against the background of death, the natural conclusion of life. Again, the Stage Manager breaks with the tradition of dramatic illusion by announcing an intermission.