Study Guide

Our Town Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Thornton Wilder

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory


The play is an allegory of life structured over three days. Wilder begins the play at the crack of dawn, when the town is waking up, and concludes the play with the dead in the cemetery. The repetition of the sun’s cycle parallels the life cycle, with one important distinction. The human lifespan is not as long as the sun’s. And unlike a sun, when a person dies, he does not rise again. There is hope, however, in the human life cycle: reproduction. Significantly, Emily dies while giving birth to her second child. Although it is unclear whether her baby lived, we do know she has at least one child to survive her and continue the circle of life.

Spare Props

Wilder calls for no scenery at the opening of the play, making the Stage Manager carry on a few basic chairs and tables. When Doc Gibbs walks onstage from a doctor’s call, he mimes his doctor's bag, just as Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb pantomime cooking. Wilder’s set is simple: no frills and no clutter. The clean stage keeps focus on the characters’ interactions, not on the specifics of Grover’s Corners.