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.