In almost every newspaper around the world, a politicalcartoon is published that highlights a particular viewpoint or idea through the use of illustration. Often, the image is exaggerated and intended to be humorous as well as informative. They can also be satirical or even serious in tone, depending on the audience, the artist, and the idea illustrated. Use these steps to analyze a political cartoon so you can accurately find what the artist is trying to convey.
1. Let your eyes “float” over the cartoon. Artists know what will capture the mind’s attention first. Allow your mind and your eyes to naturally find the portion of the cartoonthat most stands out. Most often, this will be a caricature, which is an exaggeration or distortion of a person or object with the goal of providing a comic effect.
2. Follow the cartoon’s natural flow by discovering the interaction with the primary focus (found in step 1). If it’s a person, whom are they talking to? Where are they standing? If it’s an object, what is being done to the object? What is it doing there? Most often, you can look around the immediate vicinity of the primary focus to find what is being described. This is usually an allusion, or an indirect reference to a past or current event that isn’t explicitly made clear within the cartoon.
- Following our example, the snake looks like it might be poised to attack. What would it be attacking?
- The body is disjointed, and each of the eight sections has an abbreviation. Can you recognize any of them?
- “Join, or Die” was first published in his Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754. The audience at the time would probably recognize the abbreviations as standing for a British American colony or region.
- “Join, or Die” was drawn by Benjamin Franklin and appeared in conjunction with an editorial by him that addressed the dissatisfaction of the colonies and encouraged colonial unity.
- The cartoon and editorial were published when the colonists were deciding whether to fight the French and their Indian allies for territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.
- The phrase itself, “Join, or Die” implies that if the colonies don’t join forces to “attack” or fight opposing forces, they will “die” or fail to work towards their own interest.
- At the time, there was also a superstition that a cut snake could come alive again if it was put back together before sunset.
- Uncle Sam or an eagle for the United States
- John Bull, Britannia or a lion for the United Kingdom
- a beaver for Canada
- a bear for Russia
- a dragon for China
- a sun for Japan
- a kangaroo for Australia
- As in most cases, two heads are better than one. Analyzing political cartoons is a frequent activity in history and social science classes from grade school through university levels. Try talking it out with a friend or classmate since you both probably see different aspects of the cartoon. When all else fails, ask a teacher.
- Many political cartoons appear on the opinion/editorial (op/ed) page of a newspaper. Look around the cartoon at editorials and opinion articles that might provide more context for the cartoon.
- You might also try looking on the front page of the newspaper (or web site) to find the most recent news articles for which the cartoon is made.
- Most political cartoons are drawn in black-and-white, so don’t expect to see lots of color. Your analysis should be easy to make without it.
- Political cartoons are many times meant to be funny and, more often than not, forget aboutpolitical correctness. If you feel like you might be offended by a political cartoon, don’t look at them.
- Political cartoons, like most comics, are copyrighted extensively and intended only for publishing by the newspaper or magazine it was drawn for. Even descriptions of the cartoon can be dangerous to publish. Avoid republishing any cartoons or material, even if you think they illustrate a point, without receiving permission from the original publisher or artist.
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