Through Vertigo’s unorthodox visual narrative consisting completely of woodblock prints, one is immersed in a series of shifting snapshots of American life from roughly 1929-1935. The novel is separated into three divergent, but interwoven stories focusing around The Girl, The Boy and The Elderly Gentlemen provides three unique lens in which to view the social atmosphere and events leading up to and immediately following the Great Depression. Ward makes use of certain symbolic elements through the three stories, in order to clarify cryptic elements and hidden details and tie together meaning stemming from the earlier segments. The Girl, The Boy and the Elderly Gentlemen are all explored through various sections of time at an intimate level to provide depth on how their desires and insecurities shift throughout the depression. In this sense, the character’s lives can be viewed as tools to illustrate social and economic injustice in the American system of life.
The Girl begins to form a pretense about positive directions of the lives of both the boy and girl. Starting with the introduction from presumably a school official, an empowering high school graduation speech unfolds, including various images depicting early America’s optimistic nature and industrial grit. The speech boils down the essence of the American dream by recounting the struggles and achievements of the pioneers, and their shaping of America into the illustrious nation it has become.
The continuation of America’s roaring 20’s mentality is eluded to when the girl and boy visit the amusement park following their high school graduation. Both the girl and boy visit a fortune-tellers booth and were captivated by the physics’ crystal ball. The crystal ball revealed to them idealized versions of the future, showing the girl in a violin performance with adoring fans, and the boy on a building site. The depiction of the crystal ball filled a majority of the woodblock, which appeared to frame the image, setting the tone for a story within the original narrative in which the characters gain some level of self-realization. Within the crystal ball image, the symbol of the star reappears from when it was previously seen during the graduation speech, as the driving force to Columbus’s ship, again playing upon the “American Dream-esque” nature of their supposed destinies. The characters have been ingrained with a headstrong view of America’s future, one that totes the prowess of capitalism and industrialism as unable to fail.
These idealized futures are not recognized, as the appearance of a storm at the park, ultimately the shifting tides of the Great Depression, brings in an era adversely affects both the lives of the girl and boy, as well as all others around them. The social change brought in by the depression broke all preconceptions about the direction America was heading from the standpoint of the 1920’s.