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As students analyze the editorial cartoon, they will
- Understand the context in which the cartoon was drawn
the basic elements of the cartoon
- Find and interpret the icons that
appear in the cartoon
- Identify the cartoonist’s message
- Develop skill in seeing
and understanding persuasive techniques used by cartoonists
qualities of cartooning such as sensory, formal, expressive, technical,
“A cartoon does not tell everything about a subject. It's
not supposed to. No written piece tells everything either. As far
as words are concerned, there is no safety in numbers. The test
of a written or drawn commentary is whether it gets at an essential
“The Cartoon by Herb Block” posted at http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann/herblock/cartoon.html
“Cartooning is an irreverent form of expression,
and one particularly suited to scoffing at the high and the mighty.
If the prime role of a free press is to serve as critic of government,
cartooning is often the cutting edge of that criticism.”
“The Cartoon by Herb Block” posted at http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann/
Historical Context for the Cartoon
How the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law has become a case study
in the legislative process. Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen is
widely credited with ensuring the passage of the bill.
In order to bring the bill to a vote (the key to passage), the Senate
had to end the weeks-long debate (a filibuster) by invoking cloture.
The majority Democrats lacked to votes and had to count on Republican
support. One June 10, after 534 hours, 1 minute, and 51 seconds, the
longest filibuster in history was broken. Twenty-seven Republicans, led
by Dirksen, supplied the margin of victory for the pro-civil rights forces.
This cartoon shows six of the major players involved with the bill.
From left to right, Barry Goldwater, Charles Halleck, Everett Dirksen,
Mike Mansfield, John McCormack, and Hubert Humphrey.
What follows are guidelines for analyzing or interpreting a cartoon.
Not all of them will apply to every cartoon, of course.
- List the objects or people you see in the cartoon. Sometimes cartoonists
overdraw, or exaggerate, the physical characteristics of people or
things in order to make a point. When you study a cartoon, 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 what point the cartoonist was trying to make
- Which of the objects on your list are symbols? Cartoonists use
simple objects, or symbols, to stand for larger concepts or ideas.
- What do you think each symbol means?
Words (not all cartoons
- Identify the cartoon caption or title.
- Locate three words or phrases used by the cartoonist to identify
objects or people within the cartoon. Cartoonists often label objects
or people to make it clear exactingly what they stand for. Watch
out for the different 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 clearer?
- Record any important dates or numbers that appear in the cartoon.
- Which words or phrases in the cartoon appear to be the most significant?
- List adjectives that describe the emotions portrayed in the cartoon.
- Describe the action taking place in the cartoon.
- Explain how the words in the cartoon clarify the symbols.
- Explain the message of the cartoon.
- What is the cartoonist’s opinion on this issue?
- Who would agree or disagree with the cartoon’s message? Why?
- Did you find this cartoon informative? Why or why not?
- Did you find this cartoon persuasive (not all editorial cartoons
are drawn to persuade, however)? Why or why not?
What Classroom Teachers
The Dirksen Center Web suite is loaded with information about the Civil
Rights Act of 1964—have your students find out more about the law.
What can the students learn about each of the pictured person’s
role in considering the bill? What is the significance of picturing both
Republicans and Democrats and House and Senate members? Are there other
important players not pictured? Note the “Filibuster Supply Co.,” what
is the meaning?