Animal Studies Bibliography
Symbol of A Nation: The Bald Eagle in American Culture
Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence
Journal of American Culture 1990, v. 13, n. 1, pg. 63-69
The Bald Eagle has represented honor, courage, ferocity, and valor since it was chosen as a national symbol in 1782. The Eagle has been widely represented in both ancient and modern cultures. It's sharp beak and talons, and imperial attitude has made it a symbol of war. It's strength and magnificence has associated it with royalty and authority. Although many positive attributes are associated with the eagle, the image of eagles as hostile predators is prevalent in many areas. Farmers view them as varmints which are nothing but a nuisance and need to be destroyed. This hostile attitude towards wild predators is deeply ingrained in American culture and dates back to our agricultural history. Predators are competition for resources and therefore pose a threat to our survival. Although eagles pose a threat to many Americans, they still identify with the freedom and wildness of the eagle. The popularity of this American symbol gained it protective status in 1940 when it was threatened with extinction, stating the bald eagle is no longer a mere bird of biological interest but a symbol of the American ideals of freedom (pg. 67). However, the freedom of the Bald Eagle is also vulnerable to human encroachment. When the Exxon Valdez spilled oil in Alaska, pictures of eagles unable to fly because of the amount of oil in it's wings reminded Americans that even national symbols aren't immune to human ignorance and interference with the wild. In this way, the Bald Eagle has become a symbol of the vanishing wilderness and our hopes of preserving it.