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Comparative Analysis of ‘’Liberty Leading the People’’ and ‘’The New Colossus’’


IB English

Text and Image Analysis



Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


Eugene Delacroix’s painting, ‘’Liberty Leading The People’’, and Emma Lazarus’s poem, ‘’The New Colossus’’, both highlight the concept of liberty and equality in an enthusiastic and emphatic way. Both portray an era where people shift from unquestioning obedience to a rebellious revolution, or more simply, from absolute monarchy to independence and democracy.

Both pieces belong to the same era: 19th century. Thus they both reflect the concepts that had spread through the world by the French Revolution of 1789; liberty, democracy and equality. In ‘’Liberty Leading The People’’, Delacroix depicts the July Revolution of 1830 in France. The flag of France in the hands of the woman figure resembles the concept of nationalism that prevails in the whole picture.The guns, swords and the corpses imply that there has been a battle and this was how July Revolution of 1830 actually happened. As depicted in the painting, people fought for freedom and equality with the power of their patriotism; therefore the mass of people in the picture died for this purpose and as the triumphant way the woman holds the flag suggests, their goal has been accomplished. In ‘’The New Colossus’’, Emma Lazarus personifies The Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in New York Harbor, USA. Through illustrating that statue, she uses the phrase ‘’world-wide welcome’’ which conveys the message that USA is the country of liberty that welcomes everyone from every nation. The lines ‘’Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’’ imply that the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of USA, calls upon every nation who fights for its independence and promises to help them ‘’breathe free’’. Unlike Delacroix’s painting, it does not imply any nationalistic messages; it destroys the concept of nationalism by calling upon every nation and inviting them to USA, encouraging immigration.

Both Delacroix’s painting and Lazarus’s poem include a major woman figure, a goddess from mythology. ‘’Liberty Leading the People’’ portrays liberty as a half-goddess and half-human warrior. Although her muscular arms and neck along with the gun in her hand almost give her some kind of masculinity, they also highlight her strength and determination to win the war of freedom, an unheralded triumph of a woman. Her breasts being exposed, an unexpected feature of a virtuous woman, points out the permanent change that is about to come; that every secret of the monarchy will be exposed to the society and everyone will be free and equal. Her bare breasts also give her a goddess-like look, an almost supernatural gift to accomplish her goal: liberty. Similarly ‘’The New Colossus’’ symbolizes liberty by personifying the Statue of Liberty who is a depiction of the Roman goddess of freedom, Libertas. The lines ‘’A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning’’ portray the woman figure as ‘’a mighty woman’’ who possesses great power to give freedom to every nation. Her ‘’flame’’ is a symbol of her impressive determination and power as a goddess of freedom.

Both pieces refer to every individual without distinguishing between social status or gender which strengthens the idea of equality and democracy. In ‘’Liberty Leading the People’’, the man with a derby hat and a gun symbolizes the noblemen, implying that people from different status or gender fought for the revolution, ignoring the social differences set by the regime of monarchy. Thus, everyone fighting for the same purpose removes the social differences, emphasizing equality and the regime where it is possible: democracy. In Lazarus’s short sonnet, although the words equality and democracy are not directly mentioned, they are the major themes of the poem. The Roman goddess of freedom,Libertas, calls upon every nation without discrimination, promising them liberty along with democracy in USA. Therefore the French revolutionary people depicted in Delacroix’s painting are included in Libertas’s target group.

Eugene Delacroix’s painting, ‘’Liberty Leading The People’’, and Emma Lazarus’s poem, ‘’The New Colossus’’, both emphasize the concepts of freedom, equality and democracy through goddess-like figures as symbols of liberty. Delacroix’s painting portrays strong imagery whereas Lazarus’s sonnet presents an allegorical language full of similes, oxymorons and metaphors.

 11th grade – 2012

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