The Perfect Allegory

800px-Botticelli-primaveraIt occurred to me that I am incredibly unfaithful to my promise to write about certain issues on certain days (see color coded topic in the right margin). It’s been forever since I have discussed Autofabrication on a Monday. I shall evaluate soon – when this blog, DV, reaches its first birthday – whether the structure still makes sense at all. But for now, let me try to return to it.

One reason why Roosevelt is, I think, still such a success in cultural memory is, that he is a perfect allegory for the US as a nation. He realized that the might be, and did his best to position himself well for becoming that. First, briefly and in my own simplistic terms: what is an allegory? For me the best way to understand that is through allegorical paintings. In the famous Botticelli painting above, we see a young male and seven female figures who together represent a concept: Spring. One symbolizes new growth (leaves), another fertility etc. The figures are not in the first place people, but symbolic concepts presented in the form of people. In literature, allegory is when a person (or otherwise anthropomorphous figure) “stands for” or symbolizes a concept in a narrative. The medieval allegory Piers Plowman is a famous example, with characters like “Do-well”, “Do-better” and “Do-best”: men who represent various levels of virtue.

Roosevelt, similarly, can fruitfully be thought of as an allegorical figure in (recent) narratives about America in the 1930s and 1940s. A strong young man, from a privileged background is struck by disease. This is disabling, yet he conquers the adversity to become president and pull the US through the Great Depression and World War Two. This is a fitting parallel for a strong young country, privileged by God to fulfill a Manifest Destiny, yet struck by crisis and aggressive attack. Roosevelt in the body natural overcame his own crisis of physical health, and as a body politic helped overcome the national crises of the 30s and 40s. Moreover, as a historical allegory, he remains useful: whatever is wrong with America today, if we think of FDR as “standing for” the nation (though seated and all…), any national sense of disability or incapacity (the shutdown, the many political deadlocks) can easily be framed as positive challenges to overcome.

Over Sara Polak

Blog about my research: The World We Live In Today Is FDR's World
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