What does the star symbolize?
Early in Act I of Our Town, playwright Thorton Wilder’s omniscient “stage manager” notes the equally omniscient presence of “the morning star,” stating, “The morning star always gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to go, doesn't it? [He stares at it -for a moment, then goes upstage.] Well, I'd better show you how our town lies.”
What follows, of course, is Wilder’s depiction of everyday life in his fictional community, the good and not-so-good, the joys and the aggravations. Later, much later, in Act III, the “stage manager,” having led us through the trials and tribulations of this community, only now noting that nothing, including “stars,” are eternal, but that “everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings.” Stars, however, continue, through the end of Wilder’s play, to symbolize the constancy, the one reliable indicator of continuity, upon which the town’s citizens can rely. In the heat of a major conflict among the town’s people, Mrs. Gibbs, valiantly trying to divert attentions away from the source of anger interrupts the tensions by noting that the sky is clearing, and that “the stars are coming out,” and responds to Simon Stimson’s continued venting and decrying peoples’ ignorance regarding the temporary nature of our existence by observing, [Spiritedly.] Simon Stimson, that ain't the whole truth and you know it. Emily, look at that star. I forget its name.”
Finally, Wilder’s stage manager, closing the proceedings, remarks on the town’s settling down for the night:
“Most everybody's asleep in Grover's Corners. There are a few lights on: Shorty Hawkins, down at the depot, has just watched the Albany train go by. And at the livery stable somebody's setting up late and talking. Yes, it's clearing up. There are the stars doing their old, old crisscross journeys in the sky.”
The stars represent both the permanency of existence and the fragility of existence. Stars go through a life cycle. They don’t live forever. New stars, however, begin to form in their place. They will always be there, but individual stars won’t. The people in Our Town will all, eventually, die. The town, however, will still be there.
The star symbolizes the eternal. It has been a fixed constant in the sky since time immemorial. The first inhabitants of earth stared at the same sky as the townspeople of Grovers Corners do now.
It also symbolizes the cycle of life. There are two stars: the morning star (the sun) and the evening stars (the stars and moon). The play begins at sunup with the birth of the twins in Polishtown. Act II ends with the kids addressing the heavens (the Jane Crofut letter). And Act III involves Emily dying after giving birth. The Stage Manager ends the play with a good night soliloquy, thus bringing it all full circle.