Summary and Analysis
During intermission, stagehands rearrange the stage. They place ten or twelve chairs in three rows. As Act III is about to begin, the audience sees actors take their places in the chairs, leaving an empty chair in the center of the front row beside Mrs. Gibbs and Simon Stimson.
The Stage Manager describes the gradual alteration that has occurred in Grover's Corners over the past nine years. He stresses that "on the whole, things don't change much around here " He introduces the scene, a graveyard on a beautiful, windy hilltop on the outskirts of town, which is "certainly an important part of Grover's Corners ".
The Stage Manager reminds us that the characters are friends — Mrs. Gibbs, Mr. Stimson, Mrs. Soames, and Wally Webb. Many residents have brought other loved ones to the hill and left them. Some day, everyone will come to the cemetery to stay when their "fit's [fight's] over ".
He notes that there is something eternal about human life. The nice thing about the dead is that they lose interest in the living. Their pleasures and ambitions cease as they wean themselves away from earthly concerns and wait quietly and peacefully for something to happen — something that will clarify the eternal part of them. The stage manager warns that the comments of the spirits may offend because the dead have different concerns from the living.
Unlike the former acts, the third act moves outside of town to the cemetery, which commands an inspiring view of surrounding lakes, mountains, and towns. The audience observes first-hand the changing of the sparse scenery. The players sit quietly, but without stiffness. They speak matter-of-factly and without sentimentality or mournfulness.
The Stage Manager reports that Grover's Corners has changed little. The emphasis is upon death as an accepted part of town life. just as people are born with little fanfare in Act I, they depart from life in the same fashion in Act III. The appearance of Mrs. Soames links the end of Act II to the beginning of Act III. Just as she is a member of the church choir and a player in the wedding scene, her life reaches its end and she now appears among the other spirits.
Wilder here addresses not only death, but his view on immortality. He speaks of the "something" in each human being that is eternal, yet he gives the "something" no name. In explanation of the human lack of familiarity with this unnamed element, he emphasizes that people are aware of certain things, but we "don't take'm out and look at'm very often " By refraining from using the word "soul," he leaves the interpretation open. The playwright indicates that the spirits await a momentous happening, but he gives no clue as to the nature of the event. Perhaps they anticipate a day of judgment, another life, or a complete withdrawal into peace and tranquility.
Finally, the playwright suggests that death frees human beings from all the petty, insignificant annoyances which haunt the living. "The dead don't stay interested in us living people for very long. Gradually, gradually, they lose . the ambitions they had " They also separate themselves from pleasure, suffering, and most of the memories of their earthly lives.
At the end of this introduction, the viewers see a newly dug grave being prepared for an unnamed person.