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The last section of the last act of the play serves as a flashback to the first act. The spirit Emily has returned to Grover's Corners to watch herself and her family on her twelfth birthday. It is early morning, and Howie Newsome is out delivering the milk. Emily is shocked to see him since she knows that he is dead.
At her own home, there is a familiar scene. Emily watches her mother as she converses with her father and prepares breakfast. She calls Emily and Wally to come and eat, as she has done several times previously in the play. When a twelve-year-old Emily appears, Mrs. Webb reminds her to eat slowly in spite of her excitement. After she is through eating, Mrs. Webb gives her the first birthday present.
As she watches the events of her twelfth birthday, the spirit Emily is struck by the beauty and youthfulness of her parents. She wonders how they grew so old without her realizing it. Wilder is clearly stating that time passes very rapidly during life; therefore, it is important to seize every moment and appreciate life to the fullest. Emily, however, sees that her mother misses out on the important things; she is too busy cooking and cleaning and organizing to stop and appreciate her lovely family. Emily gives a silent, but passionate, plea to her mother to look at her twelve- year-old daughter as if she really saw her; her mother's failure to respond to her shows the inability of humans to cherish life while they are alive.
When Emily returns to the spirit world, the others understand her disappointment; after all, they had advised her against going back. In a typically negative fashion, Simon Stimson states that humans just move about in a cloud of ignorance, acting with self-centered passion and trampling on the feelings of others. The other spirits recognize the truth in Simon's criticism, but they believe that life has it share of good things too.
The images of the last scene of the section are very powerful. The spirits have gathered to enjoy the dark night and stare at the stars. They seem to have moved on to a higher plane, both literally and symbolically. In contrast to their comfortable peace is George Gibbs' misery. He throws himself on Emily's grave and weeps for her death and his loss. Emily now understands how little George knows about death - or life.
The re-appearance of the Stage Manager signals the end of the play. He talks about how the earth always seems to be straining as people rush to make the most of life. Unfortunately, in the rush they miss out on the important things in life, like enjoying children, appreciating sunflowers, sharing laughter, and really knowing one's family.
The Stage Manager looks at his watch and then tells the audience it is time for them to go home. He says, "You need rest too," just like the people in Grover's Corners. The simple ending is the perfect conclusion to a play built on simplicity.