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Act III, Section 1
During the intermission, the audience can watch the stagehands rearranging the sparse set. A couple of chairs are lined in a row beside a gravesite in the cemetery. As Act III begins, the actors come in and take their seats. In the front row, there is an empty chair besides Mrs. Gibbs and Simon Stimson. The Stage Manager comes on stage and informs the audience that nine years have elapsed since the close of Act II and tells of some of the minor changes that have occurred in Grover's Corners. In the end, he asserts that "on the whole things don't change much around here."
The Stage Manager describes the graveyard. It is large, old, and situated on a windy hilltop, as if to be closer to the heavens. It also has a panoramic view. He then points out the graves of some of the deceased, including Mrs. Soames and Wally Webb. Standing in the cemetery, the Stage Manager philosophizes about life, which he feels is eternal, and death. He feels certain that the dead do not stay interested in the living for very long. The monologue of the Stage Manager is cut short by the arrival of Joe Stoddard, the undertaker, who is supervising the newly made grave.
Act III opens with a significant shift in the play. Nine years have passed since Act II, the setting has changed from the town to the cemetery, and there is a shift in emphasis from the trivialities of life to the conclusiveness of death. The cemetery's location on a hilltop is significant, for it is like it is trying to reach to the heavens above; the panoramic view symbolically hints that the dead have a vantage point from which to view life. Ironically, the Stage Manager thinks that the dead have no real interest in the living; they quickly free themselves from the concerns of everyday existence. Later in the act, Emily will prove the truth of this observation.
When the Stage Manager point out some of the graves in the cemetery, the audience recognizes the names. Mrs. Soames, the woman who interrupted the wedding in Act II, is now deceased; Wally Webb, Emily's younger brother, has also passed away. The fact that these are recognizable characters help to unify the structure and theme of the play.
Being in the cemetery, the Stage Manager cannot resist talking about life and death. He talks about the fact that eventually everyone will be brought to be buried a cemetery. He does not, however, feel that the give is the end, for he also speaks about an abstract "something" that makes man eternal; he is certain than the soul goes on, even though he does not name it.
This section of Act I ends with a bit of suspense. The Stage Manager points out that there is a newly dug grave being prepared for a funeral. The audience is made to wonder who has died.