Image Analysis: Symbolism
Congress enacted legislation establishing the first national eight-hour day for government workers and President Ulysses Grant issued the following proclamation, "I, U.S. Grant, President of the United States, do hereby direct that from this date no reduction shall be made in the wages paid by the government by the day, to such laborers, workers, & mechanics on account of such reduction of the hours of labor. In testimony whereof, &c., done at the City of Washington, this 19th Day of May, the year of our Lord, 1869 & of the Independence of the United States."
Grant's proclamation was published on a broadside contained in this collection. Read the text of the proclamation and use the higher resolution JPEG version to analyze the symbolism of this broadside.
- Who or what do you think the two seated figures in this image represent? What do their clothes or the objects around them suggest about their meaning?
- Why might the artist have depicted a beehive in the middle of the composition? What might this symbol represent?
- What objects and scenes are drawn immediately to the sides of the beehive? What is their connection to the national eight-hour law or the issue of labor?
- Describe the background landscape. Why is there a difference between the right and left sides of the background?
- Why might the artist have placed the proclamation in a star? Where else do stars appear in this image?
- What is the meaning of the single eye above the proclamation?
- What is the meaning of the eagle at the top? What is suggested by its placement at the top of the image?
- What is drawn in the horizontal window at the bottom of the image? What does this suggest about the eight-hour law or labor?
- What does the artist's choice of symbols suggest about the national eight-hour law?