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Interpreting a Political Cartoon

Like all skills, interpreting a political cartoon is a skill that students need help to develop.  There are several steps to determine the meaning of a political cartoon.  A political cartoon is a visualization that expresses opinions.  Cartoons use symbols and caricatures (an exaggeration of a person or object) to portray opinions, express concerns, draw attention to problems, and describe relationships about people and events.  Modern cartoons do the same as those from the past.  They are an opportunity for the cartoonist to exaggerate objects and people to call attention to a particular point of view.  

When viewing a political cartoon there are several steps to determine exactly what the cartoonist is trying to say.

  • Look first at the title
    • What does it tell you about the topic?
  • Now determine the main theme or subject of the cartoon
  • Next look at the symbols in the cartoon
    • What do they mean?
    • Are any of them commonly used in the media?
  • Now look at the caricatures
    • What is exaggerated?
    • Who do the people in the cartoon represent?
  • Identify the issues being addressed
  • Determine the point of view of the cartoonist
  • What conclusions does the cartoonist want the reader to reach?
  • What message does the cartoon portray?
  • Is the message positive or negative?  Is the point of the cartoon to motivate or change opinion?

Political Cartoon Sites

NOTE:  The sites listed below offer current cartoons.  The cartoons change daily.  You must check before using a site with students to determine if the current content is appropriate.  You cannot count on these sites and cartoons remaining static.  The sites change daily but they do maintain an archive of past work.


This page was updated on:  04/10/02