Refresher: How to Analyze a Political Cartoon



A political cartoon is designed to portray a particular opinion on a current event or issue in a humourous way.


To understand a political cartoon, the viewer has to have some understanding of what is happening in the news. Otherwise, although the the image might be funny, the viewer will not understand the cartoonist's message-the viewer will miss the point!

To understand a cartoon, look at the context. Look for details in the image and words and captions that provide clues about the issue.

Symbolism

Cartoonists use simple objects, or symbols, to stand for larger concepts or ideas. Identify the symbols in a cartoon; then, think about what the cartoonist intends each symbol to mean.

For more about symbols, do a web search or visit http://www.symbols.com

Exaggeration

Sometimes cartoonists overdo, or exaggerate, the physical characteristics of people or things to make a point. Look for any characteristics that seem overdone or overblown. (Facial characteristics and clothing are some of the most commonly exaggerated characteristics.) Then, try to decide the point the cartoonist is trying to make through exaggeration.

Labelling

Cartoonists often label objects or people to show clearly what they stand for. Watch for the various labels that appear in a cartoon, and ask yourself why the cartoonist chose to label that particular person or object. Does the label make the meaning of the object more clear?

Analogy

An analogy is a comparison between two unlike things that share some characteristics. By comparing a complex issue or situation with a more familiar one, cartoonists can help their readers see it in a different light. What two situations does the cartoon compare? When you understand the main analogy, decide if this comparison makes the cartoonist's point more clear to you.

Irony

Irony is the difference between the ways things are and the way things should be or the way things are expected to be. Cartoonists often use irony to express their opinion on an issue. Look for irony in the situation the cartoon depicts. Think about the point the irony might be intended to emphasize. Does the irony help the cartoonist express his or her opinion more effectively?


After you have identified the persuasive techniques the cartoonist used, answer the questions below:

  • Who are the people in this picture?
  • What is happening? What event or movement in world news is referred to by the cartoon?
  • Where did this event occur?
  • When did this event occur?
  • What political or economic perspective is held by the cartoonist?
  • How do the words and captions relate to the cartoon?
  • What techniques are used?
  • What is the artist's opinion on this subject?
  • For the purposes of this course, what does the cartoon have to do with ideologies?
  • Did you find this cartoon persuasive? Explain.
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Consider this cartoon...
 

Read how one student answered the questions below:

  • Who are the people in this picture? The Kings of Europe and some kind of servant, as determined by the caption and their clothing.
  • What is happening? What event or movement in world news is referred to by the cartoon? The Kings of Europe are being forced to give up some of their power because revolutions and political change have led to constitutions that give power to the people.
  • Where did this event occur? Europe, as noted in the caption on the cartoon.
  • When did this event occur? The cartoon was produced in 1848 but the movement towards liberal democracies began in the 1700s
  • What political or economic perspective is held by the cartoonist? He does not support the unlimited powers of absolute monarchs. He supports liberal changes to greater rights and freedoms for the average person.
  • How do the words and captions relate to the cartoon? The caption "Absolute Kings forced to swallow the pill of the constitution" explains that the kings have to be forced to accept constitutional change. They won't accept these changes on their own.
  • What techniques are used? Symbolism- the pills represent the constitution, or rules that determine how the country will run. It's symbolic because the kings are being made to accept their countrys' constitutions just like a person is made to swallow a pill. You may not like the taste, but you know it is good for you. The dress of each of the rulers symbolizes the nation each one represents. People looking at the cartoon back in the 1800s would understand which countries were represented. Labelling- The servant is holding a bottle with the label "ether" showing that some of the kings have to be knocked out to accept greater liberalism-Exaggeration- the men have very large heads, showing they are conceited. Irony- you don't expect that powerful kings would have to be forced or drugged to take a pill that is supposedly good for them- or symbolically, accept political change that everyone wants and is for the good of the country.
  • What is the artist's opinion on this subject? The absolute kings do not want to give up their power.
  • For the purposes of this course, what does the cartoon have to do with ideologies? The cartoon is about the end of the absolute power of the monarchy, and the beginning of the rule of law and greater rights and freedoms for individuals under liberalism.
 



Last modified: Thursday, 5 March 2020, 7:37 PM