Emblem of Folk Legality: Semiotic Prosecution and the American Bald Eagle

  • Sarah Marusek


In the United States, as in many other parts of the world, legality is in a constitutive relationship with culture. This chapter will examine the revered national emblem of the bald eagle through two court cases involving economic interest and religious freedom. As a symbol of law and cultural metaphor for American identity, portrayals of the bald eagle are infused with folk qualities of cultural knowledge and national identity. Interestingly, where the image of the bald eagle represents such qualities as democracy, justice, and freedom, the image of the actual bird itself can be characterized as a pest, despite its status as an endangered animal. The amalgamation of these two aspects of law, the first as virtuous and the second as practical, renders the bald eagle to be an emblematic site saturated by the intersection of legality and culture. Therefore, by seeing the bald eagle as a legal semiotic, we are able to witness how law and culture are contested in everyday American life. Through the corpses and feathers of dead bald eagles and resulting prosecutions under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and similar laws, the visual crafting of law onto one particular wild animal generates a rich discussion concerning the interpretation of legal example and cultural response with the bald eagle as a contested emblem of folk legality.


Gray Wolf Bald Eagle Dead Bird Political Imagination Endangered Animal 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of Hawaii at HiloHiloUSA

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