Witnessing the Trauma of Our Town


Robert Vork


This article examines the treatment of death and grief in Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. Through close readings of the text, it explores the play’s attempt to come to terms with radical loss by positioning the audience in the role of traumatic witnesses. This revisiting of the play, informed by trauma studies, suggests that neither positivistic readings (which idealize the play), nor ideologically-focused critiques (which dismiss it), adequately account for its sentimental attempt to engage traumatic experience. The article argues that the play ultimately seeks to resolve these issues through a universalizing foreclosure of singular loss. In so doing, the article draws a parallel between theatrical performance and traumatic repetition that potentially implicates all theatre.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.