When most people think about the word “maternal,” they may assume one is referring to a woman who has children or is a care-giver of children. However, the term is not necessarily confined to a human being. Rather “motherly” may connote other words such as compassion, unconditional love, acceptance, and can refer to countries or statues. Two such examples are the Statue of Liberty and Mother Russia. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of hope, freedom, liberty for millions, and express a patriotic view of the United States. The image of Mother Russia is also a national symbol for solders and citizens of Russia, and the statue commemorates the Russian victory in the Battle of Stalingrad. While both statues share a nationalistic view, each portrays a maternal figure in her own unique way. The status of these statues can be explored through literature and the arts, where a new perception of the “motherly figure” can be formed.
One prominent work that is engraved on the Statue of Liberty is Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Collossus.” Emma Lazarus wrote this poem for an art exhibition that was held to raise money for the pedestal of the statue (Liberty’s Epilogue,1). Many other citizens shared Lazarus’ idea about the statue and anticipated its arrival to in this country. Her poem is one of the most famous works in American history and is just as much of a symbol as the statue itself:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at the 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!”
While the language in the poem can be variously interpreted, it expresses the main intentions of the statue. For example, when Lazarus writes, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” she is referring to the immigrants who migrated to America because of religious persecution, poverty, war, or to establish a new life. That line in the poem expresses the main point. In the first five lines of the poem Lazarus creates an image of a strong woman who stands tall, while her torch lights the gates of freedom. Lazarus describes the light from the statue’s torch as “imprisoned lightning,” manifesting how powerful the light is. Lazarus also refers to the statue as “Mother of Exiles,” creating an image of a motherly figure, one who accepts the tired, poor, sick and homeless. The powerful statue is a mother to all who have left their mother- lands to seek freedom.
The next four lines personify the Statue of Liberty, by giving the statue certain characteristics. For example, the statue has “mild eyes” and “her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome,” similar to a characteristic of a caring mother. Lazarus use of words creates the image of a loving and accepting figure. Another short line is “cries she with silent lips,” which can illustrate the example of how a mother does not have to speak for a child to know what he/she has done wrong, and a mother can praise her child with gestures. Just as a smile communicates friendship, the statue communicates hopes, dreams, and creates a sense of welcoming.
The last four lines of the poem gives emphasis to the statue accepting all who enter her home. She welcomes the tired, poor, and huddled masses, while she lifts her lamp beside the gate of opportunity. One characteristic of a kind mother is a feeling of acceptance. In all, the statue is a “mighty woman with a torch” like a nightlight that shines in the dark or a mother that brightens the morning with a kiss. One quotation from an online resource explores the Statue of Liberty, in Lazarus’ poem, as a motherly figure, “Through Lazarus’ poem, The Statue of Liberty gained the name Mother of Exiles, with a torch in her hand guiding her new children to American success and happiness” (Politics, the Agenda Behind The Monuments, 1). If one was to analyze this poem, one can easily see how the mother image recurs throughout. Lazarus gives the statue accepting qualities and creates a figure of compassion and warmth.
Another poem, written by an anonymous author, explains how the Statue of Liberty felt when she was brought overseas from France:
The colossal hand comes over the sea in a boat.
Inside the crate, it reasons:
The heart is an engine.
My body is near, rolling
toward some purpose.
Slowly, in darkness
A voice assembles a mouth
and so there is music
In this poem the poet gives the statue a mind, body, and soul, claming that “Inside the crate, it reasons: the heart is an engine.” This line gives the statue human-like feelings and characteristics, showing how it has the ability to reason, and a heart that races “like an engine” awaiting its destiny with anticipation and anxiety. Also, when the anonymous poet writes, “My body is near, rolling toward some purpose,” the statue is personified, given human characteristics. The statue has a purpose in life and is “slowly, in darkness” assembling a voice, similar to a mother who is known for her influential voice with her children. The poem gives the reader feelings towards a statue that illustrates human qualities. By using the words “heart”, “body,” and “music,” the poet represents the statue as tender, loving, and sensitive as she engages on her journey to the new world. The words also make her a conscious statue with emotions. This poem is important because a mother image is frequently characterized by emotional qualities such as caring, understanding, and feeling.
Another work of literature written by another anonymous person reflects his/her experience when on first seeing the Statue of Liberty:
‘I will never forget that October morning in 1907 when I first saw the Statue. I was on a ship with 1600 people, which had sailed from Italy two weeks before. There we were, my father, my mother, my two sisters and my brother. We held each other closely and looked with wonder on this land of our dreams. Passengers all around crowded against the rail of the ship. The people were talking, crying, laughing, cheering. Mother and father lifted up the baby and my brother, too, so that they could see the Statue of Liberty. I looked at the Statue, hardly believing it was real. As we got close to it, all the passengers became silent. This symbol of America seemed to take away our breath. Many older people, thinking of what they left behind, had been crying. Now seeing this symbol of American freedom and hope, they dried their tears.’(www.yany.org, Feb.20, 2002)
The last line of this story is the most moving. I think the final line portrays the statue in a maternal role, because the passengers on the boat “dried their tears” at the sight of the statue. Another characteristic of a loving mother is the amazing ability to dry a child’s teardrops. Once again, the reference to the Statue of Liberty as the “Mother of Exiles” is represented in this writing. The writer writes, “Mother and father lifted up the baby and my brother, too, so that they could see the Statue of Liberty,” showing them their new “mother” who would guide them to “freedom and hope,” again showing how the statue is seen as a national symbol. The Statue of Liberty is emotionally moving, and the sight of her brings silence to most crowds. A mother is just as powerful when it comes to moving a child’s heart.
Not only through literature is the mother figure revealed within the statue, but the idea is also expressed through the visual arts. The idea of the statue was born when a French sculptor named Frederic Auguste Bartholdi decided to create a large sculpture as a gift for the United States. It would demonstrate France’s decision to show alliance with the United States, and in turn help strengthen ties between the two countries (Spiering, 27). Most sources say that F.A. Bartholdi used his wife and hisa mother as models for the Statue of Liberty (Spiering, 4). An unknown source says he used the Egyptian pyramids for architectural purposes and again stated that he used his mother’s face as the model for the statue. By Bartholdi using his mother’s face as a model, one can identify the face of the Statue of Liberty with motherly features. A maternal figure was used to create a warm, caring, and welcoming statue. Bartholdi could have used any person to model for his sculpture, but he chose his own mother.
Many artists have integrated the Statue of Liberty into their artwork, such as T.F. Chen. One of the hundreds of artworks completed by Chen shows women and men picking up garbage while the Statue of Liberty is in the background along with the World Trade Towers. The most prominent people in the picture are women, one who is holding an “I Love New York” bag. This artwork portrays mothers working hard to clean up their city. The statue raises her torch high above the mothers, praising them for their hard work. This particular artwork, by Chen, illustrates the use of the Statue of Liberty as a maternal example and is a constant reminder of the national patriotic view of the statue. The statue is the mother of all mothers, and she stands tall, gratified by the women’s laborious dedication to their homeland and their comradeship.
The Statue of Liberty presents a mother figure on a national level, but she is not the only statue to present the idea of a mother image of a nation. One prominent statue in Russia is Mother Russia. The name “Mother Russia” uses the word “mother” to signify its importance, since mothers are so highly thought of. Mother Russia, an image which is found all over Russia, is an icon of the country. Just like the Statue of Liberty, Mother Russia is a national symbol of hope. The character of “Mother Russia” expresses the nationwide idea of citizens in Russia. The country is viewed as a mother by all who live there. One poem written by Ivan A. Bunin demonstrates his love for the motherland.
To my Motherland
They mock you,
They, oh motherland, reproach
You for your sincere simpleness
And the gloomy look and wretched fate of your black huts.
Like a son, calm and insolent
Is ashamed of his own mother-
Who is so tired, shy, alarmed and sad
Among his city friends
He looks with a smile of compassion
At her, who dragged herself hundreds of versts
And for him, for their meeting day,
Saved her last remaining pennies
This poem represents the image of a mother figure and describes the view of many citizens of Russia. Bunin uses the words “compassion” and “sincere,” which both express characteristics of a mother. In the beginning of the poem the poet explains how the motherland is criticized for her “sincere simpleness,” and the “wretched” fate of her homeland. This first stanza is important because it calls attention to how mothers are sometimes criticized. The second verse of the poem brings the point up about how children are occasionally ashamed of their own mothers. The last verse shows the consideration that a mother has for her child. The mother has “saved her last remaining pennies,” which demonstrates how no matter what, through thick and thin, a mother will be there for her child, and do anything to make sure he or she is pleased. The poet recognizes his country as a motherland and emphasizes how a mother overcomes the many hardships that are placed upon her path of life. Bunin’s poem makes a heroine out of his own motherland. While she is being mocked for her “sincere simpleness,” she stands tall knowing that as a mother to millions of people she will always be supported.
In addition to Bunin’s poem, there have been many other poems written about Mother Russia. Many have not been translated in English. Also, a famous songwriter, named Yaroslav Zatsarinny, has written many Russian songs to his motherland. Both The Statue of Liberty and Mother Russia have been continually used as icons to represent their motherlands on a national level. Both of the statues give their citizens a feeling of belonging to a nation, and the size of the statues demonstrates a powerful message to other countries.
In conclusion, through literature
and the arts, one can see how the Statue of Liberty and Mother Russia symbolize
mother figures. While the Statue of Liberty is well known as the
symbol of freedom, she also portrays a mother image to those who seek refuge.
Lazarus’ poem, other writings, and the Statue of Liberty herself, also
known as the “Mother of Exiles,” can easily portray motherly imagery.
Mother Russia is a mother symbol in itself. Poems written by Ivan
A. Bunin and other writers show how Russia is a motherland, and is widely
accepted as a mother figure. Similarities between the two statues,
such as the use of a woman, to represent a country, and the propaganda
through literature and art, shows how both of these statues are significant
in defining a nation. The words “mother image’ are not confined to human
beings. Therefore, the Statue of Liberty and Mother Russia convey a “mother
image.” Both of these statues depict an ideal motherly example and
exude a feeling of nationalism.