A Cloud Of Ignorance

Our Town is a seminal great American play about an American town. The town is mentioned throughout the play but the name of it really doesn’t matter, it’s THE small time America. The location of the town doesn’t really matter either even though Wilder goes through the arduous task of letting us know all about it, to give it the idea of being real to make the watcher of the play feel at home. At the core of the play, it’s the quintessential American love story of small-town neighbors growing together and falling in love. Beyond that, it’s a different beast entirely.    

The raw brilliance of something does not always jump up and down while begging and pleading for attention. Sometimes it’s a subtle hint here and there that will pass by you without blinking an eye. Brilliance does not exist to be known by all of the mankind it exists for those patient enough to look for it and seek it. With a play like Thornton Wilder’s Our Town or Norman Rockwell’s  Four Freedoms, you can take whatever you want from them. Paint them as masterpieces that can be taken on the surface as enjoyable, or look at them deeper and find the subtle genius they both possess.

In 1941 America was mentally preparing itself for World War II. The current president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had to get the public on his side so for the  “1941 State of the Union address”which was about  the four basic principles that everyone should be able to enjoy,  to be able  to worship who you want, say what you want, have your basic needs fulfilled as a human,  and not fearful for your life on a daily basis. Which is why the speech is now referred to as “Four Freedoms Speech.” People loved this speech, so much so that Rockwell created four paintings, one on each of the ideas F.D.R. represented with his speech. The paintings themselves are by themselves are pretty similar to Rockwell’s other works, what makes them special is the context to them. The Four Freedoms paintings ability to capture the essence of America’s toughness of “If you stop someone from enjoying what we enjoy we will stop you.” So clearly is what makes the work so special.

   Whereas the beauty of the Four Freedoms paintings lies in the context the greatness of Our Town lies in the random moments where Wilder feels fit to mention something thought-provoking. In the very first act, the basically omniscient Stage Manager rambles about the life of the paperboy in a way that gets you angry about the wasted life of a young man to war with, “Want to tell you something about that boy Joe Crowell there. Joe was awful bright graduated from high school here, head of his class. So he got a scholarship to Massachusetts Tech. Graduated head of his class there, too. It was all wrote up in the Boston paper at the time. Goin’ to be a great engineer, Joe was. But the war broke out and he died in France. All that education for nothing.” (9)

During the entirety of the play, he mentions the character Simon Stimson, an alcoholic organist for the church who commits suicide, his alcoholism is acknowledged but there is never an idea to help him.They just ignore the problem he is suffering through in front of them while gossiping behind his back. It gets to the point that Stimson commits suicide and delivers a particularly fiery speech “Yes, now you know. Now you know! That’s what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those … of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know that’s the happy existence you wanted to go back to. Ignorance and blindness.” (109) Why a town would allow someone drink themselves to death is one of those this play might just leave you thinking about if you paid enough attention to everything it offered and that’s the brilliance of Our Town.

Works Cited

Wilder, Thornton. Our Town. 1938. Harper Perennial, 2003.

“Four Freedoms.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/powers_of_persuasion/four_freedoms/four_freedoms.html.IMG_20171120_061605414

One thought on “A Cloud Of Ignorance

  1. Jordan, “A Cloud of Ignorance” offers an insightful examination of Our Town, focusing on the play’s thought-provoking universality. Clarifying your controlling idea, or thesis, crafting more graceful transitions, eliminating sentence fragments and errors of style and word omissions—in particular missing words in the last paragraph–would strengthen the essay.


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