The Communicative Power of the Statue of Liberty: An in depth analysis of art as an effective nonverbal tool

statue_of_liberty_vintageBy Carmen Merritt

“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!”

The excerpt above is from the sonnet The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus.  The plaque of this poem sits atop the pedestal under the Statue of Liberty for which it was written to raise funds for.  Several lines, such as “..cries she with silent lips” and “I lift my lamp beside the golden door” exemplify the symbolism so deeply embedded in the statue.  When the French gave this national monument to the U.S. over a hundred years ago, they meant for it to speak volumes.  It was a gift of friendship and a symbol of the freedom and democracy achieved after the American Revolution ended and the United States signed the Declaration of Independence.  The sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi designed the statue after some inspiration from a French politician, and was dedicated to weaving powerful nonverbal displays throughout the statue.

One of the most obvious nonverbal signs is of the figure herself.  It seems important the statue is of a woman since most prominent world leaders in the 1700s were male.  She symbolizes oppression (such as women frequently face).  This concept is furthered by the broken shackles at her feet to suggest Lady Liberty has broken free from the binds that tied her to England.  Furthermore, her facial features are symmetrical which is pleasing to the eye and may have a positive impact on how she and her messages are viewed.

The principle of elevation says that height or vertical space have a great ability to convey power (Burgoon, Guerrero, & Floyd, 2010).  This is certainly evident in the imposing 305 foot, 6 inch masterpiece.  Lady Liberty’s proximity to the New York harbor also greatly impacts her message since thousands upon thousands of immigrants, visitors, and returning Americans saw that image first when arriving in the United States.  She faces outwards toward the ocean and, ultimately, the other countries of the Earth as she welcomes all those in need.  Also showcasing the statue’s inviting nature are the seven points on the lady’s crown which represent each of the seven continents of Earth.  In fact, the Statue of Liberty is one of the most recognized landmarks in the world.

The left arm holds a tablet with the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence (JULY IV MDCCLXXVI) which further associates the figure with the idea of liberty.  Her torch (chosen as a symbol of progress) is raised upward in her right hand pointing toward the sky in the universal symbol representing a great accomplishment or achievement.  The line in the poem above about lifting her torch toward the golden door refers to America being the entrance into a land free from oppression and full of liberty.


Lady Liberty’s torch welcomes weary travelers and urges them to open the golden door…

Many nonverbal cues were identified in this analysis and these include the use of proxemics, symbolism, gender roles, gestures, and the principle of elevation.  The use of color was not mentioned because the monument is made of steel and an outside layer of copper that has now turned to green with weathering over the years.  It is thought the creators would have accounted for weathering and therefore, the color may not be a particularly strong influence in the overall message.

In conclusion, nearly every aspect of this great monument has deeply embedded symbolic meaning and, as a result, effectively communicates the intended messages of hope, freedom, and liberty. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of pride to Americans and a symbol of hope to immigrants from all over the world.


Burgoon, J. K., Guerrero, L. K., & Floyd, K. (2010). Nonverbal communication. Allyn & Bacon.

Photo Credits


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