Detail and Symbolism on The Wire.


The first episode of the fourth season of The Wire exhibits a very precise attention to detail in portraying different sides of Baltimore. First, it explores the dark side with the town’s pervasive drug use, gang wars, and murders. Second, within this dangerous community, the show explores the different emotional struggles young children and adults face growing up as they constantly put out strong, reckless facades in hopes of moving up the ladder and establishing relationships with the stronger, more well-known figures and dealers in the neighborhood. Lastly, it also explores the relationship between the local government and police units as they aim to address the problems facing their respective institutions and those brought about by the violence in the town. In the show, all these three aspects of the town emerge through intertwined relationships and situations that the main characters face. Various layers unfolded as the show progressed—many of which were often unpredictable. This unpredictability and constant sense of suspense I had while watching it gave the show more depth. This is also one of the main characteristics that distinguish the show from others of the same genre.

It was my first time watching The Wire and along with the show’s attention to detail and unfolding relationships, I was also intrigued by a two scenes that had a certain level of symbolism in them.  Apart from symbolism as a visual representation of an emotion or idea, certain sounds or background noises also emerged to be representative of what the characters were going through.

In one scene, the young kids play with pigeons in an alley. Among the many pigeons, there appears to be only two white birds that appear like doves. I’ve always known that the white dove is a symbol of hope—something that these kids may have very little of. With hardly any “good” role models to look up to, the hope that these kids possess may be diminishing as they grow up with more and more bad influences around them which could, in turn be represented by the dark pigeons. The dove is also a representation of peace which, clearly, is not present in the neighborhood and conditions they live in. Having only very few doves reflects the constant sense of anxiousness and fear these kids possess as they go about their lives in the impoverished and dangerous neighborhood. The way the kids are positioned in the scene also reflects this recurring dynamic between white vs. black, hope vs. danger, etc. The kids who are wearing black hover over those in white who seem to be depicted as more inferior and weaker individuals.


Another encounter with symbolism or representation came during the scene in which the kids stand buy an ice cream truck as they savor their purchases. Covered in bruises, scratches, and urine after surviving another confrontation, some even offer to pay for others. What I found symbolic in this scene were the sounds played by the ice cream truck. The melody was distinctively slow and somewhat haunting. Despite the irony of a happy ice cream truck emitting such eerie sounds in a run-down neighborhood, I felt that these sounds somehow represented the fact that these kids were slowly losing their youth as they thrive in this dangerous town. Just as the melody somehow haunts the scene and becomes slower and slower the drugs, murders and fights that these kids grow up witnessing somehow consume them and take away from experiences that normal kids are supposed to go through.


One Response to “Detail and Symbolism on The Wire.”

  1. Administrator Says:

    Cool! The Wire’s “sound and image” spectacle effects are inconspicuous and rarely showy, but when we noticed them they do tend to generate an urge to read for symbolism. I’d never noticed how many birds there are in Season Four before …

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