Hotel California - A Symbolism Analysis

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Hotel California Symbolism Analysis


Symbolism, as defined by, is the “practice of representing things by symbols”. The Eagles, a legendary, successful band of the 1970s, heavily use symbolism in many of their songs. When I think of symbolism in terms of the Eagles, the song Hotel California comes to mind. In this song, The Eagles use the image of an exquisite Californian hotel to represent being famous and the human desire to own only the best.

“I saw a shimmering light” is a symbol representing the beginning of the want for the best. Following this line is the line “My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim”. Seeing the shimmering light, or all of the items that can serve as status symbols, the writer's head is fogged, considering the greatness he can become. He can't think clearly – he's absorbed by this want. Thus, “I had to stop for the night”. Pulling off the highway towards the shimmering light, the writer allows his desire to take control. He's heading towards these status symbols. The light is light the hotel gives off, pulling in onlookers.

“There she stood in the doorway” symbolizes the writer's first good look at what he desires – fame, and the best of items. By following her through the doorway, the writer is going towards the greed. “I was thinking to myself, this could be heaven or this could be hell” is the writer's final consideration before taking the plunge towards fame and greed. He considers that it could be great, but he also has a minor thought about the downsides. Never the less, his desire wins over. “Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way”. The writer has taken the plunge. He's in it for the fame, for the things, and for the status. He's been shown how – he's there. He's in the hotel, he's famous, and he is able to own the best.

The chorus is next. It is a reiteration of the end of the last symbol. It welcomes the writer to Hotel California, to greed and to fame. It's “such a lovely place” and there's “plenty of room”. “Any time of year, you can find it here” is the first hint at the downside of fame. It is an indication that fame is inescapable – you'll always be famous. You're no longer permitted to lay low and relax, like in the beginning of the song. All of this takes place in the hotel – in the world of fame and status symbols.

“Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends” really sums up the song. A Mercedes is definitely a status symbol. “She” is fame, thus status symbols go hand in hand with fame. The play on words (“Bends” instead of Benz) could be a symbol representing the bending of reality, or the overwhelming realization of fame. “She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys that she calls friends” adds to the status symbols. Having lots of friends and appearing popular around others is a status symbol, as it makes you appear famous and “upper” in the hierarchy we create for ourselves. “She” is in Hotel California, the portal to fame.

“Some dance to remember, some dance to forget” symbolizes the reason for chasing fame and the best of items. Some people chase fame and the best of things to remember a time when they had this (for a short period of time, as they weren't completely taken over or they wouldn't be remembering this time as good). Others chase fame to forget a time when they weren't famous, or when they didn't have everything they wanted. Again, all of this takes place inside the hotel, the place where fame is imminent and status symbols are required.

“Mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice” are both status symbols. The mirrors on the ceiling are luxurious, but begin to give an eery feeling. The writer is beginning to realize the horror that fame can bring upon a person. Champagne on ice is luxurious, but the luxury is slightly tainted (Pink) by the writer's now-changing view of fame. The hotel is becoming bad and inescapable.

“And she said, 'We are all just prisoners here of our own device'” is a symbol representing the blunt truth. The writer made the choice to pursue fame and greed. He had the device or avenue in which to do it (in this case, music). He's now stuck. The writer can't escape. He's a prisoner, but it was his own choice that made him this prisoner. The Hotel, in addition to being a luxurious, positive place is now the writer's own prison.

“The last thing I remember, I was running for the door. I had to find the passage back to the place I was before... You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave” is the final reassertion of the song's meaning. The writer is running from fame, seeing that he's trapped and will never be able to relax. He's unable to escape, though. Fame has overtaken his lifestyle, overwhelming him. The song ends abruptly with “you can never leave”. There is no other option for the writer. He's trapped with fame and status symbols. The hotel encases him, disallowing him to escape to relaxation.

Through the use of symbolism, the writer of this song perfectly portrays the desire to be famous. Clever use of words (“Bends”) subtly adds to the effect, furthering the meaning of the song. If I were to re-write the song using another symbol, I would use something like a television. The person in the song is striving to become famous. The hotel represents everything famous in the song. Being on national T.V. generally makes you famous. After you've made your debut, your every mistake in your personal life is broadcast by the general media. You can't escape the general public – they know everything that you're doing when you're doing it. This song is a great example of subtle symbolism used to portray deeper meaning.

Submitted: April 05, 2012

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