Synthesizing the Layered Meanings

This photograph was taken in 1918 in Camp Dodge, Iowa. It includes hundreds of men standing in a corn field, forming a human Statue of Liberty. (Craig, 272).

If, as art historian Marvin Trachtenberg writes, monuments "are something generally shared by a group or even an entire society...a way to transmit communal emotions," how do we reconcile the now documented existence of dozens of varying interpretations of lady liberty (Trachtenberg, 7)? She is supposed to be shared, yet she exudes meaning individually, always dependent on the time and space she stands within. How, then, can she mean anything at all?

The answer may come with an acceptance of lady liberty's many layers, an awareness of her history and a recognition of her ironies. She has been used politically as a way to avoid the slavery issue, physically as a hangman's pole, aesthetically as an emblem of men's desire and metaphorically as an anti-immigration wake-up call. She is our mother, our comfort, our pride. She has been exalted and admired, parodied and ignored. All of these meanings--and many more--encompass her. And we, as Americans with our shared history of shame and pride, now gather these meanings collectively and compress them all into the ever-present icons of our lady liberty.