Monday, September 8, 2014

Vertigo: America's Lost Future

Lynd Ward’s Vertigo is a graphic novel that weaves a complex story focusing on three main characters and their independent yet related struggles during America’s darkest economic time, the Great Depression. Ward makes use of dark yet descriptive imagery to tell an intricate tale of love, loss, and struggle that delivers powerful messages on humanity and the American dream.  The illustrator provides an introduction to the story through a speech on the brief history of America in the 1929 section of the novel. This brief, picture history illustrates America’s lost future.

The speech emphasizes the hard work, struggle, and progress that occurred from America’s beginnings to more current times. The brief history itself stresses hard work, specifically that of the individual in nearly every image. From the man plowing the field to the construction of the railroads, to the ascendance of skyscrapers, each picture shows a man hard at work, building. They are building towards a bright future. Notice the image after the skyscraper scene. It is a man standing on a hill overlooking a successful society with the sun illuminating everything. It is the future that would have been.
A major symbol prevalent in the 1929 section is the star. A star (or stars) appears in a large number of scenes. It first appears when the father and daughter leave their house (after retrieving his hat). It symbolizes the bright future, the right path, and stability. Its appearance in front of the ship, during the couple’s walk, their future-telling scene, and finally the stars extinguishment during the storm (a symbolic gesture towards the bleak future) all support the stars being a symbol of the future and stability.

Another major symbol of subtle importance, related to the history scenes, is the carnival and roller coaster. As mentioned previously, a storm rains on the splendor of the couple’s night, symbolizing the downfall of their future. However, the couple’s relationship is emphasized around the carnival.  They are shown dancing in front of the roller coaster, and the man proposes at the carnival. Thus, the carnival and roller coaster begin as a symbol of happiness and hope for the future, and end, in the last scene of novel, as a symbol of the trial and tribulations encountered by the man and woman, and the spoiling of the bright future.

The brief history at the beginning of Lynd Ward’s Vertigo symbolizes the lost future of America. The imagery contained in the speech itself, the use of stars, and the preceding images of the roller coaster and carnival all support this assertion. The novel depicts the Great Depression’s vast affect on America’s future, a future that while once bright, is reduced to a shadow of its former self.


  1. In your second paragraph, you explain well what the speech symbolizes as a whole, however I feel like you can expand on what the transition of images through the introduction speech represent, possibly to the audience in the novel. As well as how the speech may have been interpreted through the boy or girl’s point of view. You describe the speech with good detail, but possibly the addition of other symbolic elements in the speech images would aid your argument.

    I liked your segment on the meaning of the star, and found it helpful to recount the locations of the stars in one section to help remember not only what scenes they occurred in, but how those scenes are related. I think it would be beneficial to expand on the discussion of the star, and the implications of the stars disappearance in the novel and how that impacts the novels tone and meaning.

  2. Your introduction mostly reads like pure padding, but this line is good: " This brief, picture history illustrates America’s lost future." I'm not crazy about this as a final argument, because there's a degree of obviousness to it, but it's a fine summary of what Ward is doing here - you just could have cut out some of the filler.

    The second paragraph is close to being a better version of the first one - you're saying the same thing, more or less, but demonstrating it rather than being general. These two paragraphs should have been one, but otherwise they could be a reasonable introduction to a hopefully more focused claim.

    Your discussion of the stare and the carnival/roller coaster are both ok. What's missing here is an argument that brings these two symbols (as you call them) together. I think what you should be doing is arguing that Ward is showing how the roller coaster has replaced the star as the proper image of the American future - and hopefully you would be able to extend that farther, by showing how we should *respond* to the one replacing the other.

    Overall: You focus on important images, and cover them reasonably well, but although you're moving toward a coherent argument it isn't there yet, and there's too much filler along the way.