Walls aren’t simply walls. They’re symbols of power, traps within which we confine ourselves – and that’s not all. Our favourite artists are here to help us investigate further.
MUSIC FOCUS: Linkin Park, The Pretty Reckless, Hayley Kiyoko & We Are The In Crowd.
ACTIVITY FOCUS: Explore the metaphorical significance of walls and link to Margaret Atwood’s imagery in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.
Read the two sources below. I have highlighted the green sections in order to synthesise the most relevant ideas.
People have been building walls since the tenth millennium B.C. The ancient walls were built primarily for defensive purposes. Nowadays, they are built more to prevent immigration, terrorism, or the flow of illegal drugs. But there is a common connection, which is the idea of keeping outsiders out.
The first walls were city walls and they originated with the very first cities, like Jericho, the city of the Bible, which was first constructed sometime in the tenth millennium B.C., as many as 12,000 years ago. It was a walled city and, subsequently, nearly all cities in the ancient world were walled.
The first border walls aren’t found until the late 2000s B.C., in Mesopotamia. Security is why they were built. There were two different lifestyles developing: a lifestyle of the people I call wallers, who are workers who build things and identify themselves by their civilian occupations. They sought to secure themselves by building structures that would protect them even when they were sleeping at night. Outside the walls, you have a very different sort of society, people inured to the dangers of living in an un-walled world. Non-wallers were peoples we generally refer to historically as barbarians, like the Huns, the Goths, or the Mongols. They were viewed with fear by the wall-builders. And that’s what inspired the construction of the early walls.
I would make the case that there would be no writing and nothing as complex as gunpowder without first the construction of walls. The ancient human need for security is one of the fundamentals of life and has to be achieved before we can achieve other things. It was walls that gave people the security to sit and think. It’s hard to imagine a novel being written in a world in which every man is a warrior. Until a society achieves security, it can’t think about anything except the dangers all around it. As a consequence its culture will be limited.
There is a folk legend about the first of the great walls of China: the story of the weeping widow. Her husband is drafted to go off and work on the wall but finds the conditions too difficult. He’s beaten daily by a supervisor and tries to escape. When he returns, his supervisors put him to death. His widow comes to the wall in search of him, where she hears of his death and immediately begins to gush tears. Those don’t relent for 10 days, until the wall has been washed away.
Cannons ultimately made city walls obsolete. They had been around for about 100 years but there had never been a cannon like this before. The sultan had a Hungarian foundryman make for him an enormous cannon that could fire stone balls seven feet in circumference from a distance of a mile. This was referred to as the Horrible Bombard by one of the sources and it relentlessly battered the city walls of Constantinople in the spring of 1453, when the city eventually fell.
The Berlin Wall was constructed for an unusual purpose, which was to stem the flow of emigration from East Germany into West Germany. There were barriers between East and West Germany except in the city of Berlin, which was partially controlled by Western powers and partially controlled by East Germany. Until 1960, people could freely cross from one side to the other as part of their daily shopping or commute. But the East German economy was on the verge of collapse because of all the people that were fleeing to the West. So, in August 1961, they roll out the barbed wire, all in one night. It became known as Barbed Wire Sunday, when the people of Berlin woke up to this new feature of their landscape.
But the Berlin Wall was originally regarded by Western leaders with some relief. John F. Kennedy said, “A wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.”
As people become more accustomed to security, they have a lower threshold for what triggers their insecurity. When you talk about forting up, you’re talking about the proliferation of gated neighborhoods, homes with security fences, hedges, guard dogs, and even guns, around them.
We’re seeing walls in Saudi Arabia, India, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, and Ecuador. All around the world countries are building walls. In all, over 70 different countries have fortified their borders.
SOURCE 2: Joshua J. Mark’s World History article.
City walls, which became common for purposes of defense, are first seen around the city of Jericho (now in the West Bank) around the 10th century BCE and the Sumerian city of Uruk which was founded somewhat later (though both cities lay claim to the honor of `first city in the world’). The walls of Uruk were thought to have been built by the great king Gilgamesh upon which he inscribed his heroic deeds which formed the basis for the later epic he is most famous for.
Walls began to rise around cities throughout Mesopotamia shortly after urbanization began in the region c.4500 BCE. City walls were constructed to include gates and watchtowers and usually a ditch running around the outer perimeter of the wall which could be filled with water.
It is thought the very first wall not built around a city was erected by the Sumerian King Shulgi of Ur (r. 2029-1982 BCE) in c. 2038. Shulgi’s wall was 155 miles (250 kilometres) long and was built between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to keep the invading Amorites out of Sumerian lands. This wall was unusual in that it did not surround a city but, rather, marked a territorial, national (rather than private) boundary and, as such, was a first of its kind.
In ancient Egypt most private homes had walled courtyards to help deter robbers or simply unwanted and uninvited neighbours (papyrus scrolls and tomb inscriptions relate that human beings could be as insufferably annoying to each other in ancient times as they are now). Every city in ancient Egypt was walled and each of the great palaces had elaborate painted walls for the purpose of defense, but also for ornamentation. This same building pattern held true in ancient Greece where citizens of Athens built small decorative walls around their courtyards and patios.
The most famous wall of antiquity in Europe, however, is Hadrian’s Wall in Britain. The Roman Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138 CE) grew tired of incursions into the Roman provinces in Britain and so, in the year 122 CE, began building a wall across the northern border of Roman Britain to separate it from the invading Caledonian tribes much in the same way that Shulgi built his wall almost two thousand years earlier to keep out the Amorites (as with the Great Wall of China and the Anastasian Wall). It took six years to build, stretched for 80 miles (128 kilometres) across the land, and was, at points, over nine feet wide (2.7 metres) and twenty feet (6 metres) high. It was fortified by towers along the way and served as a symbol of Roman military might and power.
Walls, as noted, have always served the same basic purpose and, at the same time, have always shared the same weakness: anyone who really wants to get around a wall will find a way to tunnel under, go over, or walk around one. The Great Wall of China was initially useless in stopping the nomadic cavalry of the Xiongnu and only became the formidable structure it is today many centuries later. As noted, Shulgi of Ur’s wall was easily breached by the Elamites simply walking around it and Hadrian’s Wall did little to stop illegal immigration as evidenced by Caledonian artifacts found amidst Roman pieces, suggesting Pictish merchants trading with (or bribing) Roman soldiers.
No matter how pointless a wall might be in terms of defence or limiting access of `the other’ to one’s lands, walls have continued to be built, and often fortified, since Roman times in an effort to make the populace feel more secure. Like Hadrian’s Wall, walls in general are symbolic in marking one’s space as one’s own and limiting access to others, by way of a physical statement, in order to feel more secure. It has never seemed to occur to people that what they are walling out might be more beneficial than harmful to them in the long run but human beings are notoriously short-sighted and largely fear-motivated and so it is almost a certainty that walls will continue to be built, separating nation from nation and neighbour from neighbour, on into the future without end.
Have some fun looking back at the early days the genre-defining Linkin Park and godfathers of Grunge, Soundgarden. Then check out the YUNGBLUD video – just a quick reminder that although you might relate to Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, their sad deaths shouldn’t in any way inform your vision of your own future.
We’re going to start activity 3 by looking at Linkin Park’s use of walls in their lyrics! Before we do that, check out the band’s first UK performance…
And given how we’re about to watch Linkin Park perform the massive song ‘Crawling’ – and seeing as how the video we’ve chosen features a guest appearance from Chris Cornell, let’s look at one of Soundgarden’s early visits to Europe.
Finally, before we get to the actual “walls” analysis, let’s watch one more clip. Because, as much as we love Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, we definitely don’t want to end up like them, and YUNGBLUD reminds us to fight through the dark moments. YOU’LL BE GLAD YOU DID!!!
Right, then, have a look at the lyric in orange, then consider the question (in purple) while watching the live footage of ‘Crawling’.
Ironic: happening in a way contrary to what is expected.
Watch the four videos below and analyse each artist’s use of “wall” imagery.
Linkin Park, ‘Crawling’
“My walls are closing in.”
How does understanding the history of walls inform our analysis of Linkin Park’s metaphor?
The Pretty Reckless: ‘Standing At The Wall”
“I am standin’ at the wall
It is high, and I am small
All alone, there’s no one to catch me when I fall
From the wall
From the wall“
How does understanding the history of walls inform our analysis of The Pretty Reckless’ metaphor?
Hayley Kiyoko: ‘Girls Like Girls’
“Tell the neighbours I’m not sorry if
I’m breaking walls down
Building your girl’s second story
Ripping all your floors out”
How does understanding the history of walls inform our analysis of Hayley Kiyoko’s metaphor?
We Are The In Crowd: ‘The Best Thing That Never Happened‘
“I hope you’re home the day I tear down the walls”
How does understanding the history of walls inform our analysis of We Are The In Crowd’s metaphor?
How is the “wall” imagery significant throughout the four songs explored above?
Write a paragraph, or a series of paragraphs, that respond to the above question.
Now, pick a few of the “wall” quotes from the list below and analyse them in a way that demonstrates understanding of context.
Margaret Atwood, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
The word ‘wall’ is used more than 60 times throughout ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.
- They wear lipstick, red, outlining the damp cavities of their mouths, like scrawls on a washroom wall, of the time before.
- The Wall is hundreds of years old too; or over a hundred, at least. Like the sidewalks, it’s red brick, and must once have been plain but
handsome. Now the gates have sentries and there are ugly new floodlights mounted on metal posts above it, and barbed wire along the bottom and broken glass set in concrete along the top.
- No one goes through those gates willingly, the precautions are for those trying to get out, though to make it even as far as the Wall, from the
inside, past the electronic alarm system, would be next to impossible… We stop, together as if on signal, and stand and look at the bodies. It doesn’t matter if we look. We’re supposed to look: this is what they are there for, hanging on the Wall.
- We leave the Wall, walk back the way we came, in the warm sun.
- The scratched writing on my cupboard wall floats before me, left by an unknown woman…
- Already we were losing the taste for freedom, already we were finding these walls secure.
- Somehow the Wall is even more foreboding when it’s empty like this. When there’s someone hanging on it at least you know the worst. But vacant, it is also potential, like a storm approaching.
- There’s a heavy contingent of guards, special-detail Angels, with riot gear — the helmets with the bulging dark Plexiglas visors that make them look like beetles, the long clubs, the gas-canister guns — in cordon around the outside of the Wall. That’s in case of hysteria.
- I don’t want to be a doll hung up on the Wall…
Please do send your work in. I want to publish the most exciting answers and offer advice.
YUNGBLUD is this century’s Shakespeare: read more.