Tag: Statue of Liberty

American Gothic: A puzzling piece of American Iconography

By Owen McCue

Grant Wood’s 1930 painting, “American Gothic” is probably the most intriguing American icon we’ve studied this semester in that it is so different from the rest.

There is no doubt the image is universally recognized. As Wanda Corn describes, it “pervades our culture.”[1] She mentions its use in greeting cards, political cartoons and advertising.[2] It continues to have an impact in pop cultural today, especially through social media.

Like the statue of Liberty and Betsy Ross, the likeness of “American Gothic” has been merchandised and widely circulated, one of Martin Kemp’s qualifications for an icon, but why?[3] Unlike Ross and Lady Liberty, there is no clear American value the image evokes. The Statue of Liberty has tied to it values of freedom and opportunity. Ross’ tie to the American flag celebrates the patriotic woman and evokes the patriotism tied to the American Revolution.

So what about two stern looking Midwesterners posing in in front of their house? You could point to the pitchfork and say the painting carries with it the American value of hard work or look at the farmers in front of their house and make a claim people get a feeling of the individualism of the Heartland when they look at the image. However, as Corn explains, even those who studied the work at that time felt Wood’s work was a piece of satire directed at his upbringing.[4]

With all apologies to Wood, I think whatever the original intent of his image was, that message has been lost. His use of the gothic window, his painting of the potted plants on the front porch are no longer, or even is decision to substitute a rake for the pitchfork seem trivial when the pitchfork is now being replaced with light sabers and golf clubs.[5]

American Gothic doesn’t carry it with the sacredness or holiness, as Martin Kemp describes it, of the other American icons, which makes it OK to distort.[6]You can see how liberally people use the image above.

The reason the image is so iconic today is simply due to it’s … wait for it … simplicity. Because it is so simple, the painting can easily be manipulated for a quick joke or political and/or cultural jab. Add a prop in the man’s hand or paste some faces on the bodies, and suddenly you’ve got yourself a viral image. There is even an American Gothic meme generator.

It doesn’t sound academic, and I’m sure Wood would roll over in grave if he saw his work of art is being used today, but I believe the reason that’s the reason it continues to be an image recognized by so many Americans.

[1] Wanda, Corn. The Birth of a National Icon: Grant Wood’s American Gothic. The Art Institue of Chicago, 1983.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kemp, Martin. In Christ to Coke: How Image Become Icon. Oxford University Press, 2012.

[4] Wanda, Corn. The Birth of a National Icon: Grant Wood’s American Gothic. The Art Institue of Chicago, 1983.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Kemp, Martin. In Christ to Coke: How Image Become Icon. Oxford University Press, 2012.

Christ the Redeemer and the Statue of Liberty: Great Guardians of Nations by Morgan O’Donnell

When thinking about national statues and monuments, my mind flashed back to a picture I saw when I was twelve and nearing the height of my Jonas Brothers obsession. It was a photo of the three brothers at the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I knew nothing about the statue at the time but I was struck by how massive and looming it was compared to the size of an average human. I was even more captivated when I came across photos that showed the statue looking out over the city’s vast landscape of skyscrapers, mountains, neighboring islands, and water. Christ the Redeemer may seem to have little in common with the U.S.’s Statue of Liberty (for starters, it’s a him/Him…) but the two iconic structures have one striking similarity: they are what their people want them to be.

The idea for Cristo Redentor, as it is known in Portuguese, came from the people of Brazil themselves. Although the country had gone through a separation of church and state at the end of the 19th century, a group of Brazilians who feared “an advancing tide of Godlessness” throughout the country and the world after World War I decided that there was a need for a national symbol that would reclaim Brazil — and Rio, its capital city at the time — as a land of Christianity. [1] The group, the Catholic Circle of Rio, organized an event to collect donations and signatures to support the building of the statue and considered many designs before choosing engineer Heitor da Silva Costa’s image of Christ with arms outstretched as a symbol of peace. French sculptor Paul Landowski led the creation of the 98-foot tall statue, which is made out of soapstone and concrete, and after nine years of construction, Christ the Redeemer officially opened on Mount Corcovado in 1931. [2]

Now, a statue with a founding based entirely on one specific religion may seem to run counter to the secular American values of freedom and democracy that the famous Statue of Liberty has come to represent, but I feel that both are examples of how the values that are associated with icons can change over time while still retaining a sense of national pride. Historian Bernard Dard writes that while Lady Liberty has been used by everyone from business firms to cartoonists for a variety of purposes — from commercial product promotion to advocacy of liberal immigration laws and criticism of the government — her core symbolism as the bearer of American ideals such as liberty, opportunity, and democracy (and as America itself) has remained intact and transcended all else. [3]

In a similar way, although Christ the Reedemer began as a symbol of Christianity, it is not exclusively so and it has also acquired a greater significance. According to a BBC article, Count Celso, one of the first to be involved with project in its early stages during the 1920s, described the finished statue as “a monument to science, art and religion.” [4] The rector of the chapel that sits inside the base of the statue (the pedestal that elevates its full height to 125 feet) calls it a religious, cultural, and national symbol for Brazil and a means of welcoming all those who pass through Rio, almost like a host. And for a local sorbet vendor, who is also quoted in the article, the statue is a beautiful place with special significance to the community around it. [5] Christ the Reedemer stands as a representation of the Brazilian people’s accepting and warmhearted attitude towards all visitors to Rio and citizens of the world, just like the welcoming and protective qualities that have been attributed to the Statue of Liberty over time as she has greeted new arrivals to America — “From her beacon-hand/Glows world-wide welcome,” as Emma Lazarus’s famous poem states. [6]

Native songwriter Gilberto Gil perfectly captured this essence surrounding Christ the Redeemer and Rio’s culture in his 1968 song “Aquele Abraco” (translated as “That Hug”):


The simple song is a love letter to Brazil, as Gil recounts walking through the streets, admiring the city’s beauty and embracing the people he encounters:
“My path through the world 
I even trace 
Bahia has already given me 
Ruler and compass 
Who knows of me I am 
That hug! 
For you that forgot me 
That hug! 
Alô Rio de Janeiro 
That hug! 
All the Brazilian people 
That hug” [7]
 These icons, one American, one Brazilian, represent important attitudes and values of their home countries on such a strong level that they have basically been elevated throughout history and now come to represent the countries themselves.. Whether you see the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro or the Statue of Liberty’s torch held high over New York Harbor, they send the same message from the people of two different nations: we will embrace you, take you in and welcome you home.


1. Boorstein, Michelle. “The many meanings of Rio’s massive Christ statue.” The Washington Post. August 09, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/08/09/the-many-meanings-of-rios-massive-christ-statue/?utm_term=.a28d827cdec9&wpisrc=nl_faith&wpmm=1.

2. “Christ the Redeemer (statue).” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_the_Redeemer_(statue)#cite_note-The_Sun-10.

3. Dard, Bertrand. “Liberty as Image and Icon.” In The Statue of Liberty Revisited. Smithsonian Institution Press.

4. Bowater, Donna, Stephen Mulvey, and Tanvi Misra. “Arms wide open.” BBC News. March 10, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/special/2014/newsspec_7141/index.html.

5. Ibid.

6. Lazarus, Emma. “The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus.” Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46550/the-new-colossus.

7. “Aquele Abraço – Gilberto Gil.” Www.letras.mus.br. https://www.letras.mus.br/gilberto-gil/16138/.

The Godfather, the Statue of Liberty, and Capitalism by Lena-Marie Lannutti

The Godfather films are an epic saga that is often credited as some of the best films ever made. Within its narrative is a cultural tie between the criminal underworld and the American Dream.  Francis Ford Coppola, the director, has remarked “it’s not a film about organized gangsters, but a family chronicle. A metaphor for capitalism in America”[1]. Besides these ideas of capitalism there are other concepts with gender roles as well.  The use of an icon like the Statute of Liberty in these films represent these two concepts. As cited in the third chapter, Bodnar cites how from the beginning, Americans associated through the Statute of Liberty, concepts like liberty with capitalism. “It is not the pursuit of happiness that allies with life and liberty as inalienable rights, but property that anchors and stabilizes American liberty.”[2]

The Godfather was one of the first films of New Hollywood cinema, and the first film since the early 1930s to feature criminals in main role instead of a secondary character[3]. In Italian-Americans in film, the author states the film, “…became the prototype and most important legitimator of the new wave of Italian-American sex-and-violence odysseys”[4] The film became a huge success and a cultural touchstone because of its complicated narrative and overall quality of production.

On the surface, the film presents typical gender roles “The older generation the traditional earth mothers, provide passive and stoic support for their men. The younger…. Modern nags become Italian-American spoiled brats”[5] Though there is evidence in the film of subversion of gender roles, visually and narratively traditional gender roles are reinforced. The Statute of Liberty in these scenes can be seen as a heightened extension of “earth mother” of the older generation as cited by Cortes. This connection has been linked to the statute itself in the past, “Standing upon the threshold of New York, which is the doorway of the Union, she will seem to offer the freedom of the New World to the thousands that shall flock to us from the Old…”[6] This line shows how people imprinted maternal qualities onto to the Statute because of her gender, and her connection to immigration.

In one scene in The Godfather some underlings of Don Vito assassinate a guy on the outskirts of New York, in the background the Statute of Liberty is in view in a sense “watching” everything happen. The scene alone juxtaposes the ideas of the American Dream the Statue with its representation of freedom, with these gangsters, who commit crimes in pursuit of the American Dream. Visually this scene resembles one of the last scenes in the film where Kay looks through the doorway (at the moment) unaware of her husband’s position as the head of a criminal organization.  Both scenes place women (in one case the Statute of Liberty) as passive observers to corruptions of the American Dream.

This final connects the narrative of The Godfather with the immigrant experience, and executes this by invoking the Statue of Liberty. Once again, the Statute is cast as an observer, this time a witness to the origins of the Godfather himself. The fictional character presents an immigrant narrative that is rooted in American history. “The individualistic liberties with which arriving immigrants invested the Statue of Liberty—as linked to preconceptions or early impressions of America—often emphasized hopes for new prosperity and wealth.”[7] This new prosperity is exactly what the Godfather achieved, the complication is that this was achieved through notorious means. It is this paradox that has made the narrative so engaging almost forty years after the films were released. The power of this legacy is consistently tied with the iconography and the mission of the American Dream, and this is best exemplified in the films’ use of the Statute of Liberty.



Fig 1-2 Scenes from The Godfather[8]






Figure 3 Scene from The Godfather Part II[9]


[1] Browne, Nick Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Trilogy Cambridge University Press, 2000 28

[2] Bodnar John The Changing Faces of the Statue of Liberty 2005 62

[3] Browne, Nick Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Trilogy Cambridge University Press, 2000 81

[4]  Cortes, Carlos Italian Americans in Film: From Immigrants to Icons Oxford University Press 1987, 117

[5]  Ibid., 117

[6] Bodnar, John The Changing Faces of the Statue of Liberty 2005 98

[7] Ibid., 102

[8] Coppola, Francis Ford The Godfather 1972 Paramount Pictures (images found on Netflix)

[9] Coppola, Francis Ford The Godfather Part II 1974 Paramount Pictures (images found on Netflix)

The Two Faces of the Statue of Liberty in the Feminist Movement by Emily Grimaldi

The moment I thought to write about the Statue of Liberty as a strong female icon, I immediately found some depiction of her deep in the abyss of my television knowledge. The animated Netflix show, Big Mouth, follows the exploits of young teens trying to navigate the art of becoming an adult. In the second episode of the series, the kids take a field trip to the Statue of Liberty, where Jessi gets her first period. The Statue of Liberty takes Jessi into her hands and gives her the harsh facts about being a women in today’s society.

Portrayed as a French-speaking, cigarette smoking, doesn’t-take-crap-from-anyone kind of woman, the Statue of Liberty asserts herself as the strong, independent figure we believe she is. However, she is a hopeless pessimist who does not find any inspiration in herself. Even when Jessi accuses the Statue of being a bit cynical, the Statue sarcastically apologizes for not being “more America, sunny Mickey Mouse”. Here, not only does the Statue of Liberty represent women, but she depicts the age old struggle of women by saying that life is hard and there aren’t very many good things about being a woman in a male driven society. Liberty has stood in the New York Harbor for decades and has yet to see a woman rise to power in America.

This is quite contrary to how we as Americans view the Statue of Liberty. As Bodnar points out, women during the suffrage movement used the statue as a symbol of their cause.[1] These women addressed the contradiction that a woman had become the symbol of a land where women had no rights. Because this movement succeeded, we regard the Statue of Liberty as an inspiration and representation of a confident, powerful woman. She is optimistic and hopeful. She is a positive and figure. She is a strong, independent woman. We believe she is here to inspire us, which is where the Big Mouth portrayal comes in. Some believe she is antiquated while some believe she is still relevant. Some believe there is still some inspiration to be found while some believe the torch has gone out. Some have hope that a woman’s place in society will change while some are resigned to the current state of affairs. These various understandings and interpretations truly make the Statue of Liberty an American icon.

1. Bodnar, JohnLaura BurtJennifer Stinson, and Barbara Truesdell2005The Changing Face of the Statue of LibertyBloomington: Center for the Study of History and Memory, Indiana University.

Mother of Exiles: How the Statue Representing Republicanism Became A Symbol of Opportunity for Immigrants by Keira Campbell Wingert

xin_422070605080848438046When the world thinks of America, one of the first images they conjure is the giant, green hued statue of a woman perched atop her pedestal on Ellis Island. She carries a tabula ansata in the crook of her left arm, and her right hand holds a torch high above her head. She has a noble face, and green spikes create a halo around her head. This figure is the Statue of Liberty, and with its placement on Ellis Island, the gateway to America for millions of European immigrants from 1892 to as recently as the 1950s, it became emblematic of opportunity and new beginnings. However, the statue in its beginnings was not necessarily supposed to represent opportunity but rather liberty and the ideals of republicanism.

In 1865, Edouard Laboulaye, a French political figure, proposed that France gift the United States with a statue representing liberty and the ideals of a republic in honor of the U.S.’s upcoming centennial celebration. Ten years later the French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, who had a fascination with “colossal” works, was commissioned by France to design a statue for the United States. The U.S. and France agreed that while France would make the statue itself, the U.S. was responsible for building its pedestal.

Bartholdi and Laboulaye both wanted the statue to represent American ideals. They chose to make the statue a colossal figure of Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. According to myth surrounding the statue, Bartholdi supposedly had his mother Charlotte sit as the model for the statue’s solemn, simple face. The symbolic torch and tabula ansata were included to represent the ideals of a republic—ideals that France and the U.S. both shared. The statue’s feet were to stand on a broken chain representing freedom from monarchy. Though the statue was supposed to be completed for the U.S.’s centennial celebration in 1876, fundraising and construction for both the pedestal and statue took too long. Thus, the statue and pedestal were ready to be dedicated 10 years after the centennial in 1886.

hh0041sThree years before the dedication, in 1883, Emma Lazarus, a poet and New York native, penned a sonnet to donate to an auction raising money for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal fund. In this poem, called “The New Colossus,” she describes the massive copper-plated statue as the “Mother of Exiles” welcoming immigrants to America on her perch on Ellis Island. The poem initially held very little significance to the overall story of the Statue; while Lazarus’ sonnet was read on the day of the statue’s dedication, it then went almost completely ignored—that is, until Lazarus’ friend Georgina Schuyler began an endeavor to memorialize the sonnet. By 1903, Shuyler’s efforts had been successful and a plaque of the sonnet was placed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Since then, Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” has become synonymous with the Statue of Liberty and immigration to America. Through the poem, Lazarus gives the Statue of Liberty a voice:

“Keep, ancient lands, your stories pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (1883)

Thanks to the poem greeting all immigrants coming ashore in New York, the Statue became a more than a symbol of liberty and the republic, as was originally intended. Rather, it became many immigrants’ first memory of their new life and the world of opportunity that awaited them. The language in Lazarus’ poem transformed the centennial gift into an emblem of a new life and a chance to pursue one’s dreams.

The Statue of Liberty’s change in meaning parallels the stories of other U.S. icons, such as the Liberty Bell. Like the Bell, the Statue did not take on the meaning it has today until literature was created surrounding it, popularizing one author’s perceived meaning of the monument. And just as the Bell represents both Philadelphia and the U.S., the image of the Statue of Liberty can be synonymous with both New York City and the U.S. at large. But perhaps the popularity of these icons as tourist attractions in their respective cities has simply changed the way we view them altogether. While they may once have been symbols of freedom, liberty, hope, opportunity, and the like, they now mostly represent the places in which they reside. Where once thousands of people gathered below the Statue of Liberty to enter the U.S. as citizens, the tourists who flock to see this monument have become the new “huddled masses.”



“The New Colossus” manuscript – http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/haventohome/images/hh0041s.jpg

Statue of Liberty Tourism – http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-07/05/xin_422070605080848438046.jpg

“A Timeline of Statue of Liberty.” (2016). The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/statue-of-liberty-timeline

Conradt, S. (2013). “10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Statue of Liberty.” Retrieved from http://mentalfloss.com/article/51521/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-statue-liberty

“Immigration Timeline.” (2016). The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/immigration-timeline

Lazarus, E. (1883). “The New Colossus.” Retrieved from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175887

“Libertas.” Encyclopedia Brittanica. 2008. Retrieved 1 February 2016.

“Statue History.” (2016). The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/statue-history

Young, B.R. (1997). Emma Lazarus in Her World: Life and Letters. The Jewish Publication Society, p. 3.