exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity
The Perfect Mate
Emily and George
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Wikipedia: “Our Town is a 1938 three-act play by American playwright Thornton Wilder. It tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover's Corners between 1901 and 1913 through the everyday lives of its citizens…”
Spark Notes: “Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb make breakfast, send their children off to school, and meet in their gardens to gossip… Afternoon arrives, school lets out, and George Gibbs meets his neighbor Emily Webb outside the gate of her house. We see the first inkling of George and Emily’s romantic affection for one another during this scene and during Emily’s subsequent conversation with her mother…”
George: Gee, it's funny Emily. From my window up here I can just see your head nights when you're doing you're homework over in your room.
Emily: Why, can you!...
George: ... you see, I want to be farmer, and my Uncle Luke says whenever I'm ready I can come over and work on his farm and if I'm any good I can just gradually have it.
Emily: You mean the house and everything? ...
George: Yeah. Well, thanks...
Emily: Good night, Papa.
Mr. Webb crosses into the house, whistling "Blessed Be the Tie That Binds" and disappears.
Rebecca [George's sister]: I never told you about that letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter and on the envelope the address was like this: It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover's Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America.
George: What's funny about that?
Rebecca: But listen, it's not finished: the United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God -- that's what it said on the envelope.
George: What do you know!
Rebecca: And the postman brought it just the same.
George: What do you know! ...
Stage Manager: I want you to try and remember what it was like to have been very young. And particularly the days when you were first in love; when you were like a person sleepwalking, and you didn't quite see the street you were in, and didn't quite hear everything that was said to you.
You're just a little bit crazy. Will you remember that, please?
Now they'll be coming out of high school at three o'clock. George has just been elected President of the Junior Class, and as it's June, that means he'll be President of the Senior Class all next year. And Emily's just been elected Secretary and Treasurer.
I don't have to tell you how important that is.
He places a board across the backs of two chairs, which he takes from those at the Gibbs family's table. He brings two high stools from the wings and places them behind the board. Persons sitting on the stools will be facing the audience. This is the counter of MY Morgan's drugstore. The sounds of young people's voices are heard off left.
Yepp -- there they are coming down Main Street now.
Emily, carrying an armful of--imaginary-schoolbooks, comes along Main Street from the left.
Emily: I can't, Louise. I've got to go home. Good-by. Oh, Ernestine! Ernestine! Can you come over tonight and do Latin? Isn't that Cicero the worst thing! Tell your mother you have to. G'by. G'by, Helen. G'by, Fred.
George, also carrying books, catches up with her.
George: Can I carry your books home for you, Emily?
Emily: (coolly) Why . . . uh . . . Thank you. It isn't far.
(She gives them to him.)
George: Excuse me a minute, Emily--Say, Bob, if I'm a little late, start practice anyway. And give Herb some long high ones.
Emily: Good-by, Lizzy.
George: Good-by, Lizzy--I'm awfully glad you were elected, too, Emily.
Emily: Thank you.
George: Emily, why are you mad at me?
Emily: I'm not mad at you.
George: You've been treating me so funny lately.
Emily: Well, since you ask me, I might as well say it right out, George.
George: Wha-what is it?
Emily: (Not scoldingly; finding it difficult to say.) I don't like the whole change that's come over you in the last year. I'm sorry if that hurts your feelings, but I've got to tell the truth and shame the devil.
George: A change? Wha-what do you mean?
Emily: Well, up to a year ago I used to like you a lot. And I used to watch you as you did everything . . . because we'd been friends so long . . . and then you began spending all your time at baseball . . . and you never stopped to speak to anybody any more. Not even to your own family you didn't . . . and, George, it's a fact, you've got awful conceited and stuck-up, and all the girls say so.
They may not say so to your face, but that's what they say about you behind your back, and it hurts me to hear them say it, but I've got to agree with them a little. I'm sorry if it hurts your feelings . . . but I can't be sorry I said it.
George: I . . . I'm glad you said it, Emily. I never thought that such a thing was happening to me. I guess it's hard for a fella not to have faults creep into his character.
(They take a step or two in silence, then stand still in misery.)
Emily: I always expect a man to be perfect and I think he should be.
George: Oh . . . I don't think it's possible to be perfect, Emily.
Emily: Well, my father is, and as far as I can see your father is. There's no reason on earth why you shouldn't be, too.
George: Well, I feel it's the other way round. That men aren't naturally good; but girls are.
Emily: Well, you might as well know right now that I'm not perfect. It's not as easy for a girl to be perfect as a man, because we girls are more nervous. Now I'm sorry I said all that about you. I don't know what made me say it.
Emily: Now I can see it's not the truth at all. And I suddenly feel that it isn't important, anyway.
George: Emily . . . would you like an ice-cream soda, or something, before you go home?
Emily: Well, thank you . . . I would.
(They advance toward the audience and make an abrupt right turn, opening the door of Morgan 's drugstore. Under strong emotion, EMILY keeps her face down. GEORGE speaks to some passers-by.)
George: Hello, Stew,--how are you?--Good afternoon, Mrs. Slocum.
The STAGE MANAGER, nearing spectacles and assuming the role of Mr. Morgan, enters abruptly from the right and stands between the audience and the counter of his soda fountain.
Stage Manager: Hello, George. Hello, Emily. What'll you have?--Why, Emily Webb,--what you been crying about?
George: (He gropes for an explanation.) She . . . she just got an awful scare, Mr. Morgan. She almost got run over by that hardware-store wagon. Everybody says that Tom Huckins drives like a crazy man.
Stage Manager: Drawing a drink of water. Well, now! You take a drink of water, Emily. You look all shook up. I tell you, you've got to look both ways before you cross Main Street these days. Gets worse every year.--What'll you have?
Emily: I'll have a strawberry phosphate, thank you, Mr. Morgan.
George: No, no, Emily. Have an ice-cream soda with me. Two strawberry ice-cream sodas, Mr. Morgan.
Stage Manager: (Working the faucets.) Two strawberry ice-cream sodas, yes sir. Yes, sir. There are a hundred and twenty-five horses in Grower's Corners this minute I'm talking to you. State Inspector was in here yesterday. And now they're bringing in these auto-mo-bites, the best thing to do is to just stay home. Why, I can remember when a dog could go to sleep all day in the middle of Main Street and nothing come along to disturb him.
(He sets the imaginary glasses before them.) There they are. Enjoy 'em. He sees a customer, right. Yes, Mrs. Ellis. What can I do for you? He goes out right.
Emily: They're so expensive.
George: No, no,--don't you think of that. We're celebrating our election. And then do you know what else I'm celebrating?
George: I'm celebrating because I've got a friend who tells me all the things that ought to be told me.
Emily: George, please don't think of that. I don't know why I said it. It's not true. You're--
George: No, Emily, you stick to it. I'm glad you spoke to me like you did. But you'll see: I'm going to change so quick--you bet I'm going to change. And, Emily, I want to ask you a favor.
George: Emily, if I go away to State Agriculture College next year, will you write me a letter once in a while?
Emily: I certainly will. I certainly will, George . . . (Pause. They start sipping the sodas through the straws.) It certainly seems like being away three years you'd get out of touch with things. Maybe letters from Grower's Corners wouldn't be so interesting after a while. Grower's Corners isn't a very important place when you think of all--New Hampshire; but I think it's a very nice town.
George: The day wouldn't come when I wouldn't want to know everything that's happening here. I know that's true, Emily.
Emily: Well, I'll try to make my letters interesting.
George: Y'know. Emily, whenever I meet a farmer I ask him if he thinks it's important to go to Agriculture School to be a good farmer.
Emily: Why, George?
George: Yeah, and some of them say that it's even a waste of time. You can get all those things, anyway, out of the pamphlets the government sends out. And Uncle Luke's getting old,--he's about ready for me to start in taking over his farm tomorrow, if I could.
George: And, like you say, being gone all that time . . . in other places and meeting other people . . . Gosh, if anything like that can happen I don't want to go away.
I guess new people aren't any better than old ones. I'll bet they almost never are. Emily . . . I feel that you're as good a friend as I've got. I don't need to go and meet the people in other towns.
Emily: But, George, maybe it's very important for you to go and learn all that about---cattle judging and soils and those things .... Of course, I don't know.
George: (After a pause, very seriously.) Emily, I'm going to make up my mind right now. I won't go. I'll tell Pa about it tonight.
Emily: Why, George, I don't see why you have to decide right now. It's a whole year away.
George: Emily, I'm glad you spoke to me about that . . . that fault in my character. What you said was right; but there was one thing wrong in it, and that was when you said that for a year I wasn't noticing people, and . . . you, for instance.
Why, you say you were watching me when I did everything . . . I was doing the same about you all the time. Why, sure,-I always thought about you as one of the chief people I thought about. I always made sure where you were sitting on the bleachers, and who you were with, and for three days now I've been trying to walk home with you; but something's always got in the way. Yesterday I was standing over against the wall waiting for you, and you walked home with Miss Corcoran.
Emily: George! . . . Life's awful funny! How could I have known that? Why, I thought--
George: Listen, Emily, I'm going to tell you why I'm not going to Agriculture School. I think that once you've found a person that you're very fond of... I mean a person who's fond of you, too, and likes you enough to be interested in your character . . . Well, I think that's just as important as college is, and even more so. That's what I think.
Emily: I think it's awfully important, too.
Emily: Y-yes, George.
George: Emily, if I do improve and make a big change . . . would you be . . . I mean: could you be . . .
Emily: I . . . I am now; I always have been.
George: (Pause) So I guess this is an important talk we've been having.
Emily: Yes . . . Yes.
George: (Takes a deep breath and straightens his back.) Wait just a minute and I'll walk you home. (With mounting alarm he digs into his pockets for the money.)
The STAGE MANAGER enters, right.
(George, deeply embarrassed, but direct, says to him) Mr. Morgan, I'll have to go home and get the money to pay you for this. It'll only take me a minute.
Stage Manager: Pretending to be affronted. What's that? George Gibbs, do you mean to tell me--!
George: Yes, but I had reasons, Mr. Morgan.--Look, here's my gold watch to keep until I come back with the money.
Stage Manager: That's all right. Keep your watch. I'll trust you.
George: I'll be back in five minutes.
Stage Manager: I'll trust you ten years, George,--not a day over.--Got all over your shock, Emily?
Emily: Yes, thank you, Mr. Morgan. It was nothing.
George: Taking up the books from the counter. I'm ready. (They walk in grave silence across the stage and pass through the trellis at the Webbs' back door and disappear.)
Elenchus. Our Town just might be my favorite play.
Kairissi. A lot of people like it, and I like it, too.
E. There’s something very sweet about it, in an innocent way.
K. The classic “girl and boy next door” falling in love is deeply embedding in the American psyche. It’s become an archetypal symbol of the way things should be in an ideal world.
E. In an ideal world, we would know a lot about a potential mate. We’d know her family, her beliefs, her culture. He’d have gone to school with her for 12 years and would know her strengths and idiosyncrasies.
K. Yes, but with all that, Emily and George are still naïve in many ways. They’re caught in stereotypes, like “all women are this way” and “all men are that way.” And yet there’s a fundamental sincerity in their spirits subsuming the illusions, and so we know they’ll do well together. We’re not worried at all for them.
E. Tell me, Dear – what do you see in their young love?
K. It’s another example of lovers being out-of-phase; though, in their case, not dramatically so. There’s a misunderstanding early on for them; one or the other becomes miffed and now distance has been created. But they’re among the lucky ones, few as they are; they become mature enough to finally talk about hurt feelings, come to an understanding, and now plan for their happy future. (sighing) It often doesn’t work out that way.
E. (sighing) Isn’t it strange, Dear? Emily is also one more example of “I’ve loved you all my life” – not just, “I’ve grown up now, and suddenly fall in love with you,” but “I now realize there’s never been a time when I did not love you.”
K. (sighing) How close they came to dashing it all on the rocks; how close they came to missing each other, like missing the only train.
E. I think Our Town is so popular because, as we said, it touches something very deep within people; but part of that resonance is a haunting sense of missed opportunity regarding what “should have been.”
K. (sighing) It's virtually a universal tragedy. Oh, Darling Dear, I am more and more thankful, all the time, to God for having created a way to access “second chances” and to make up for the sins of our prideful, misspent youth.