Superficially, the title “American Gothic” points to the housebuilding style of the house in the background. But Wood, surreptitiously, invites us to widen our interpretation to also include the couple in the foreground – as he imagines “the kind of people I fancied should live in that house”.

The cameo brooch worn by the woman depicts Persephone. Persephone’s ancient tale is such that we can consider a lock of the woman’s hair being out of place as symbolic of the woman being Persephone personified.

The man holds a three pointed fork. It is the near most object. The fork is held unusually; facing towards the house rather than facing us. Hades had Cerberus, the monstrous three-headed dog, to guard the entrance to the underworld – to prevent the dead from leaving.

Hades, ruler of the underworld, was also known as the god of wealth. Of all precious metals. The man wears a tiny gold collar stud.

Hades’ symbol is the bident – resembling a two-pronged pitch-fork. Look for the bident shape (a curved “U”) in the folds of the man’s denim.

The underworld. A place where the dead are shut away from the living. See that the house’s windows have their curtains and blinds drawn down, unusually, in the daytime.

In “American Gothic”, Wood arguably retells the epic Old World legend of Persephone, Hades and the underworld; all masterfully dressed up as small-town 1930’s Americana.


“American Gothic” is somehow connected to Wood’s slightly earlier “Woman with plants” (1929). The small plants in both paintings are the same. The woman is Wood’s mother.

Are the plants on the porch of “American Gothic” a reference to Wood’s mother and death?