In Ward’s Vertigo, the United States is shown throughout several different time periods leading up to and throughout the Great Depression. The novel begins around 1929 with a girl who is an aspiring violinist and her father. While the two attend the girl’s graduation, a man gives a motivational speech on what seems to be the successes of the nation. This speech serves to provide the graduates with knowledge of the wonderful things they can do in their lives and what to look forward to as the nation progresses. Based off of this short speech segment, the meaning of history in the United States is progression and regression.
Many images in the 1929 history section of the novel show progress of the nation. The strongest example of this is in the three images that show man constructing something. The first image shows a man constructing a building made out of brick while another man in the background is shown carrying more bricks to further the building process. This shows that the country is progressing because time, labor, and resources are all being expended for the ultimate goal of providing families a place to live. Creating a livable environment is progress because it welcomes more families to settle down and provides the option for more people to immigrate into the country and start a new life. With the addition of more people, the United States gains more resources as new thoughts and ambitions are introduced and therefore progresses.
The second image shown in the history segment is of four men working together to create railways. The addition of railways to the United States provided an outstanding opportunity for the country to expand and progress. With completion of the railway system, the United States sped up necessary elements such as trade and travel which both provided growth for the country. The increase in trade across the country benefits businesses as receiving necessary elements is now faster and less expensive. The travel element also provided growth to the country as it arranged opportunities for people to access different parts of the country and inhabit them as new jobs in these locations became available.
The third image shows one man working with steel beams in order to manufacture a building in the heart of a city. Large skyscrapers prove that the United States is progressing as they show that the city is industrializing. Once completed, buildings like this will serve as the head quarters of major businesses and will therefore provide better support for the economy, as more jobs are available. Big buildings in the city also hold a large number of people, which easily supply new ideas that are useful for the development of the nation.
After 1929, the positive outlook on life that the novel displays suddenly turns, as the effects of the Great Depression on the common person begin to show. It is here where the characters begin to regress, while few of them continue to progress. For example, the girl continues to practice her violin and progresses as she becomes more and more skilled, while her father clearly regresses as we see the first victim of the Great Depression. This regression is shown because after the father is let off from his job, he struggles to find work and cannot support his family. His attempt at suicide is an insight of the economy of the nation and the nation’s regression. The suicide attempt is a symbol of the economy and its regression because it is an extreme low in an individual’s life like the Great Depression is an extreme low in the American economy. In the midst of the Great Depression, the jobless people of the United States show the regression of the country as a whole as progress is inhibited through the suffers of the individuals that make the United States a nation.
In the next section of the novel, the elderly gentleman displays both progression and regression. The frustrated and upset faces of the elderly gentleman’s employees display how panicked the general population feels with the fall of the economy as the company regresses through a sudden drop in profit. The elderly gentleman progresses as a businessman by making the difficult decisions of laying off employees while he regresses in his health. Day after day the elderly gentleman takes more and more medicine to try to stay alive and make the best decisions for his business. Near the end of the section, the elderly gentleman receives a blood donation that ultimately saves him from death. As soon as he wakes up from this process, his coworkers show that his company is finally making a better profit. This shows the toxic relationship between health and success that individuals in the United States are faced with on a daily basis.
In the final section of the novel, the reader immediately can tell the connection between the boy and the girl in the first section of the book, and later on can see the connection between the boy and the elderly gentleman. The boy expresses the most progress shown by any character in the whole novel. In order to provide for his new fiancée, the boy travels to multiple locations looking for any place that will hire him. As the process continues, the boy loses help but still tries to maintain his confidence and make the best of his situation. He steals a suit off of a car crash victim to further his confidence and chances of finding a job. When the boy decides to sell his blood in order to save the life of the old man, he has made the ultimate sacrifice in order to get what he desires the most. This is an example of progress because the boy learns to understand why sacrifices are important and also learns not to give up.
The last image of the novel is the image of the boy and the girl, finally together, on a rollercoaster. This image is symbolic as it describes the way the nation, economy, and individuals all progress and regress. No matter the time or place, there will always be ups and downs, progresses and regresses. Life is a rollercoaster because of this. The best way to get through the rollercoaster is to accept the fact that there will always be highs and lows in multiple aspects of life. Even when it appears that the low will never end, and hopes are lost because of this, there is always a high to follow, just as progress will show despite persistent regresses.