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Beads as Metaphor

Metaphor, from two Greek words meaning to change and to transfer, is a word or phrase that means one thin in the literal sense but stand for something else. Beads are similar to words in that they can covey messages and act as metaphors. There are many examples of this use of beads, as in romance, the use of wampum, heirloom beads and so on.

Indeed, these uses of beads are legion. Lest you think they are restricted to less sophisticated societies, I tell my audiences to image four people standing in front of them. "One is wearing a cross, one a Star of David, one a Mercedes-Benz hood ornament and the fourth a perfectly matched set of pearls. Can you tell me anything about these people?"

I don't think semiotics (the philosophical theory of signs) has quite caught up with beads yet, but it might be interesting to do some research on the topic. This section presents some of the references I have come across over the years to beads in the popular media. In some cases they highlight the symbolic role beads play as amulets, in the counterculture, as beads for the savages and the related perennial, beads buying Manhattan Island.

Other pages will let you draw your own conclusions about the use of beads as metaphor as they explore how beads are portrayed in animated cartoons, advertising, the comics, the movies, newspaper columns and on television.


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