America’s Sweetheart: Lady Liberty as a Trope

Tropes – defined as recognizable plot elements, themes, or visual cues that convey something in the arts – are all around us in our everyday life. There is one particular trope that has long been the face of America since she first made an appearance; the Statue of Liberty.

In 1885, America was gifted the marvelous three-hundred-and-five foot beauty from France. She was shipped across the Atlantic Ocean in three-hundred-and-fifty individual pieces. Ever since then, she has sat sparkling in the New York harbor, boasting the pride, hope, and strength of the American people. That’s not to say that her image hasn’t been touched or reimagined since.

FREADOM Poster – September, 2012

If the statue of liberty could be defined by one word it would be freedom. The above image depicts lady liberty holding a book and reading while still sporting her signature pose. The text includes a clever play on the word freedom, spelled “freadom”to further support its message and catch the attention of those passing by. The artist uses bright colors to draw the eye in as well. This poster was created by Roger Roth in 2012 during banned book week to celebrate American’s right to read whatever they choose. Predating this, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression had recently sued the U.S. Department of Justice to find out how many subpoenas for bookstore and library records had been issued under the U.S.A. Patriot Act (1). This act aimed to collect books and texts that posed a threat to U.S. national security. However, the act sparked some controversy among free expression groups as they felt it was a serious threat to free speech. This trope utilizes lady liberty to display one of our often forgotten freedoms; the right to information. This concept is easily understood by most people as the image identifies lady liberty as freedom and further explains its context with the sentence “Celebrate the right to read” and “Banned Books Week”.

Cloverfield Movie Cover – January, 2008

Lady liberty is often depicted broken, displaced, or altered. It is a popular trope to use her as a symbol for a failed America or a dystopian future when she appears in these forms. The picture above is a movie cover from the film Cloverfield – released in 2008 (2). The camera focuses on lady liberty who is missing her head and appears dirty and burnt. She still hoists her torch high as to make us certain of what we are looking at. The water leading to the distant New York skyline is oddly disturbed which draws our eyes to the destruction. The sun is used to highlight the smoke and debris. At the top of the image there is a ominous quote stating “something has found us”. It is clear from the cover that the movie takes place in America, specifically New York. Lady Liberty’s appearance indicates that America is under attack by something – in this case a monster. This is a great example of how the statue can be used to depict a dystopian world. Lady Liberty in ruins has been depicted in several other movie covers including The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and Escape From New York (1997). She not only tells us the time and place but also the state of the environment. Few other American icons are used as religiously as her in dystopian films.


9/11 Lady Liberty Published Comic – September, 2001

The cartoon above was created by Marshall Ramsey on September 9th, 2001. It was drawn in the news room just minutes after the second tower had fallen (3). The picture depicts lady liberty hunched over in grief. Her torch lays at her feet signaling temporary defeat. In the distance is the New York skyline drowning in a dark cloud of soot and smoke. The twin towers are void. The image is quiet, eerie, and powerful. This is another powerful trope that identifies the statue of liberty as the symbol for America. On that day in September America fell to its knees. Collectively we grieved a tremendous loss. People were frightened, confused, and angry. Lady Liberty personifies America in this cartoon and represents all of those complicated emotions. Those alive during that time can relate to the image and the feeling it conjures up. Not only Americans but the entire world could recognize this image and know exactly what day it refers to.

Lady liberty will always be an iconic symbol of America. Although her meaning can be changed and altered, she is universally recognized and will remain a popular trope for many years to come.