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Our Town | Study Guide

Thornton Wilder

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Our Town | Symbols


The Cornerstone

In Act 1 the Stage Manager announces a time capsule will be placed in the cornerstone of the new bank, and he plans to add a copy of Our Town to the more famous documents that will be buried. In its own way, a depiction of everyday life is as important, and conveys as much information about humanity, as any work from Shakespeare or the Bible. Also, by referring to the play itself, the drama immediately introduces the metatheatrical elements intended to remind the audience of the blurred lines between art and reality.

The Milkman and Paper Boy

These characters symbolize both life's permanence and its transience. Act 1 opens with milkman Howie Newsome and newspaper boy Joe Crowell making their morning rounds. In Act 2 Joe has been replaced by his younger brother, Si. In Act 3 both characters have vanished entirely, replaced by undertaker Joe Stoddard and Emily's cousin Sam Craig. Note the repetition of the name Joe and even the duplication of Si Crowell's initials in Sam Craig's name.


A heliotrope is a climbing flower renowned for its wonderful scent. Its name refers to the way it follows the sun. In Act 1 the heliotrope brings together two sets of people who take in the flower's fragrance: Emily and her father and Dr. and Mrs. Gibb. It's just beginning to dawn on Emily that she cares for George Gibbs, so the flower is associated with romance. At the Gibbs house, Mrs. Gibbs persuades her cranky husband to "Come out and smell the heliotrope in the moonlight," thus renewing the bonds of affection between the couple.

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