Although Emily longs to return to a happy day on her twelfth birthday when she is a ghost, the lack of insight of the small town appalls her. Emily loved her upbringing, but the lack of reflection and deeper insight inspired by the small town suggests that in confining people to conventional roles, people are only living half-lives, not fully present in the joys of the moment. The comment that "the saints and poets, maybe -- they do some" (i.e., really appreciate life) underline how unconventional people are usually the only individuals who can gain a full perspective on the world while actually alive.
The fact that Simon is a frustrated artist parallels the notion that only people who live outside of conventional norms gain the insight that comes to Emily after death. But despite his talent, Simon lacks this perspective on his own existence, because he seems unable to break out of either the town or the role he lives within, even though he is clearly miserable. Simon longs to give voice to something like what the saints and the poets see in his music, but he is not supported in his quest by a town that can only replicate the conventions of birth, marriage, and death, year after year. The town sees him as an embarrassment, an amusement, or someone to be pitied. He is so mired in his misery that even when he is a ghost, his picture of the world is incomplete. "That's what it is to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance" (Wilder 109).
However, while the audience is encouraged to mourn the loss of character's dreams, the characters who do 'dream big' and successfully leave Grover's Corners do not come to a happy end either. Joe Crowell, Jr., the intellectual paperboy, is killed in World War I after winning a scholarship to MIT. Crowell's disdain of marriage does not bring him happiness any more than George's marriage. This suggests an almost nihilistic view of human existence -- the end cannot be predicted, and even when characters achieve their dreams, including the seemingly impossible task of extricating themselves from the town, they still cannot resist the force of history. But this is why it is all the more important, the play suggests, that we enjoy the here and now.
Within the small town exists many different types of characters but their fates cannot necessarily be predicted, based upon their temperaments and roles in life, with the possible exception of Simon, who commits suicide. Emily dies in childbirth, long before her time should come. Joe is killed in a war despite his brilliance. The only commonalities they share are the pressures of conformity of the small town, but their responses to Grover's Corners do not necessarily dictate their fates. Our Town is thus a profoundly deterministic play -- history and the location where someone grows up, more so than personality or drive seals one's fate. And the fate of all human beings is the same -- the final, peaceful and dispassionate resting place of death.
Wilder, Thornton. Our…