On page 203 of Tom Phillips' A Humument, Phillips suggest that one’s most valuable possessions can be instantly destroyed through unfortunate acts of mischief or through pure revenge and punishment, however, both events leave everyone involved with a sense of despair and emptiness. He conveys this idea through the use of select words that establish a point of anger and hatred, with the aid of flaming, smoky images that display the abruptness in which all of one’s life savings can be taken away.
Immediately, the viewers are made aware of the fact that a dangerous event has occurred because of the blazing and vivacious flames engulfing the page. The first indication of this catastrophic event appears at the top of the page, slightly above the words “A Human Document,” where there seems to be a black bird in flight. In this situation, this black bird could represent a crow and generally when crows are spotted, danger or even death is near. Seeing as how the bird is flying away, it exemplifies the idea that something dangerous has occurred in the community and it has forced people to evacuate. The most obvious element of this disaster is the image of a mounting accumulation of smoke. As the smoke is carried away to the right edge of the page, it appears to take on a darker color; adding to the intensity of the flames and the fact that this fire is severe. These thick and puffy clouds of smoke nearly consume the entire page, making it nearly impossible to read the majority of the page’s content. Phillips uses this prevalent distraction to place an importance on the mere twenty one clearly legible words, to quickly sum up the central message.
Phillip’s use of bold, mounting colors, forces the viewers to narrow in on certain aspects on the page. He also captures this effect through the use of circles and a rectangle around specific words in the text, pushing the minor words into the background. The first group of words highlighted reads “…whose hands glistened with rings,… and his nose, suggested finance and Israel…” and just by reading those words for the first time, one may assume that this man is finically wealthy. However, after reading all of the words, one may then conclude that this man has acquired these gems through robbery. With the aid of the other words on the page and most importantly the last few words “…by the Furies,…” Greek goddess that enforce the law by protecting victims of crimes and punishing those who have committed a crime, the reader may assume that this man has committed a crime and the burning of this area is his punishment. Phillips’ addition of the word “…Israel…” places a classification upon the man, and the preceding words dripping with violence and anger, can indicate a division in race or religious beliefs in the community.
Continuing down the page, the viewers are hit with two extremely powerful words “…bitterness…” and “…banish…” Based on the fact that these two words are directly placed in front of the thickest and darkest area of the smoke, indicates the strong impact Phillips intended to make towards his viewers and with connections to “…the Furies,…” it appears as if the Furies were so angry with this man, they were driven to the point of wanting to banish him from the community, and the only way in which they could make such a monumental statement is through a fire. “…Harder…” and “…bitter…” are the next two highlighted words, and they are written in the same sentence, making this statement brief and condensed. At this point, it feels as if the man is trying to maintain his composure but the burning of his possession is causing him to feel bitter and angry towards those responsible. The placement of these two words, directly over the tip of the yellow flames, alludes to the increasing build up of frustration and anticipation he may be feeling due to the circumstances.
“…Hate…” and “…spurn…” are the next two words and although they are written in two different lines, there is one circle adjoining them, which emphasizes the importance of their meanings and collectively conveying a strong sense of anger and dislike that is lingering in the air. These words are placed directly in the flames and it appears that two circles have melted together to combine the words into once circle, which leads to the idea that the feelings of hatred have merged into one universal feeling for both the Furies and the man. The last three circled words are “…by the Furies…” and they are the people who punish those who commit crimes and previously in the sentence, Phillips’ mentions that “… the elements of his life appeared to him in some new combination like a telescope shaken by the Furies.” A telescope allows someone to focus on certain things that are far in distance and the man seems to be focusing on his life, but now he stands at a distance, watching everything he owns burning in flames. His life is being “…shaken by the Furies…” because he is now receiving his punishment in a brutal manner and it is as if the situation has turned against him, he took from others and now his things are being taken from him. Immediately underneath the words, “…by the Furies…” is a massive black square that consumes the bottom of the page, and not only does this last image reiterate the strict focus Phillips’ wants the readers to have on the text and the flaming images in the picture, but it gives the illusion that nothing else in the picture is important. The damage this man has caused creates a dark, ascending cloud over his life and everything will eventually be blocked out by this massive shadowy reminder of the punishment he received.
Although the image does not have a title, one could assume that this too plays into the major theme in the image. Without a title, the viewers obtain a sense of emptiness, as if a certain element should be a part of the image but yet it is not present. The same feelings are felt amongst those involved in the image, those who were robbed of their possessions, including the man’s, which are now engulfed in flames and a dark cloud of quilt. A missing title leaves a space of openness, but yet it is slowly filled with dark smoke and ruins.
Tom Phillips’ highlights select words buried in monstrous flames to convey the idea that priceless possession can be wiped out within seconds for various reasons, but the image and the feelings created from that disaster, will linger in the air for a long period of time. Seemingly enough, the harshest words such as “…hate…” or “…spurn….” will be the most difficult to erase, even burning them seems to just cause them to melt into one pool of animosity and despair.