Writing while World War II was still raging, Wilder depicts a representative American family facing a series of calamities — an ice age, a global flood, an a world war — and warns his audience against resorting to tribalism and selfishness in the face of a crisis. His play invokes this passage from Plato:
Then tell me, O Critias, how will a man choose the ruler that shall rule over him? WiIl he not choose a man who has first established order in himself, knowing that any decision that has its spring in anger or pride or vanity can be multiplied a thousand fold in its effects upon the citizens?
In a tribute to James Joyce, Wilder wrote a brilliant passage on how modern technology makes human grief more palpable. He was talking about the printing press, but what he says applies even more to social media:
The other centuries knew that many people had lived and died a long while ago, and they knew there were many people living on the earth. But the invention of the printing press (its consequences are still unfolding) had made these realizations far more actual. Now everybody knows them, not as something you learn in school and recite to one another, but – “in their bones” – that millions and billions have lived and died, and that probably billions and billions (let us not despair of the human race) will live and die.You have lost some husband, brother, or parent in the war. Your grief is very real to you. Yet now we know as never before that a great many died in this war and in the wars of Carthage and Troy and Ur, and in the Thirty Years War – what end is there to any human thing in which you are not also companion to billions? It does not diminish your grief, but it orients it to a larger field of reference.