“Our Town is not offered as a picture of life in a New Hampshire village; or as a speculation about the conditions of life after death (that element I merely took from Dante’s Purgatory). It is an attempt to find value above all price for the smallest events of our daily life. I have made the claim as preposterous as possible, for I have set the village against the largest dimensions of time and place. The recurrent words in this play (few have noticed it) are ‘hundreds’, ‘thousands’, ‘millions’. Emily’s joys and griefs, her algebra lessons and her birthday presents---what are they when we consider all the billions of girls who have lived, who are living and will live? Each individual’s assertion to an absolute reality can only be inner, very inner.”
Author Thornton Wilder
At the end of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town, a young woman who has recently died returns to the world of the living. After she stops the experience because it is too intense for her, she asks the Stage Manager, a somewhat godlike narrator, the following question:
"Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?"
He answers that maybe poets and saints do, but I want to suggest to you that maybe autistic people do, too. At least a little more, or differently, than the people around us.
I don't mean to imply that Thornton Wilder was autistic or that he intended Our Town in general or its climax to have anything to do with autism. But I do think it is interesting and possibly helpful to look at the play from an autistic point of view.
Our Town is weird. So weird (and so often taught and performed) that I don't feel compelled to give any spoiler warning. Trust me-- there's nothing to spoil. It's not that kind of play. It works like Philip Glass music-- deliberately boring in places in order to intensify subtle changes.
It has a narrator and is set on a bare stage with actors pretending instead of using real objects. The first act is structured around a single day in the life of Grover's Corners, a small American Town. Act Two tells the story of how Emily came to marry her husband George.
And the third act happens shortly after Emily's death. It takes place in the cemetery. The dead are sitting in chairs, and Emily joins them. She realizes that she can revisit her life, and the others warn against it.
But she does.
Although Asperger's syndrome is mentioned on the cover of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, author Mark Haddon says he is not happy that people are trying to use his book to learn about autism:
“It is used as a textbook for social workers, and for policemen, which is something I heard recently. I never meant it to be a textbook,” he told an audience at the Telegraph Hay Festival.
“I’m a little worried if people are saying, ‘If you want to work out how to treat people on the spectrum, read this novel’.
“I also get a bit worried when people say, ‘I’ve got Asperger’s, my family have never understood me but I gave them your book and it opened a window’.
“I want to say, ‘I wish the people in your life had been able to make the leap of imagination to understand your world without having to go into a bookshop and buy a book’.”