A Dictionary of Mad Men’s Signs and Symbols

We all know there’s more to Mad Men than the lush interiors and good-looking cast that meet the eye. It’s a show laden with symbolism, hidden in everything from individual characters to the books they’re reading and their vices of choice. From the Freudian to the downright literal, the objects and personalities that populate the show practically all have meaning. With that in mind, we’ve attempted what we’re sure is impossible: to create a dictionary of three-seasons’ worth of symbols and, very briefly, tease out their meaning in anticipation of Sunday’s season premiere. Any experiment of this nature is sure to be both reductive and imprecise, so give us your arguments and additions in the comments.

Adam Whitman, Don’s real brother: The return of the repressed

Adoption: The (literal and figurative) failure of Pete’s manhood

Annabelle Mathis: Roger’s fading youth

Ann-Margret/Bye Bye Birdie: Innocence, exuberance (the kind you can sell)

The Apartment: Joan’s self-awareness

Babies: Potential; responsibility

Bert Cooper: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in action

The Bible: Serious, life-altering contemplation; Jews

Betty: The Feminine Mystique

Betty’s BB gun: Agency