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Analyzing Editorial Cartoons: The Death of a Statesman

Lesson Plan Objectives | Historical Context | Analyzing the Cartoon | Sources



ID: 1969/SB37/5/11
Date: September 9, 1969

Larger Image: 107.6KB

Lesson Plan Objectives

As students analyze the editorial cartoon, they will

  • Understand the context in which the cartoon was drawn
  • Discover 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
  • Identify qualities of cartooning such as sensory, formal, expressive, technical, and judgmental

“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 truth.”

“The Cartoon by Herb Block” posted at



1969 sb39 5 21

1969 sb39 5 24

1969 sb38 5 16

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Historical Context for the Cartoon

Abruptly at 2:51 on Sunday, September 7, Everett Dirksen collapsed and stopped breathing while recovering from surgery. His heart, which had enlarged over the years to twice normal size, just quit. Dirksen did not respond to efforts by doctors at Walter Reed Army Hospital to revive him. At 4:52 p.m., the doctors pronounced him dead at age 73.

Mourning for the Senator was national and of a personal quality, particularly among his colleagues in Congress and his friends among the press, including cartoonists. His body lay in state under the great dome of the Capitol, an honor accorded to only three members of the Senate before him. Richard Nixon and his Cabinet, with the vice-president and many dignitaries, attended the funeral, after which the senator was buried in Pekin.

In his eulogy to the fallen leader, President Nixon recalled remarks Daniel Webster had made more than a century before in testimony to a political opponent: “Our great men are the common property of the country.” That described Dirksen well. His public service spanned an era of enormous change, and he played a vital part in that change. Through six presidencies, as Nixon put it, “Everett Dirksen has had a hand in shaping almost every important law that affects our lives,” and while he never became president, “his impact and influence on the Nation was greater than that of most Presidents in our history.”

Analyzing the Cartoon

What follows are guidelines for analyzing or interpreting a cartoon. Not all of them will apply to every cartoon, of course.

Visual Elements

  1. 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 through exaggeration.

  2. Which of the objects on your list are symbols? Cartoonists use simple objects, or symbols, to stand for larger concepts or ideas.

  3. What do you think each symbol means?

Words (not all cartoons have words)

  1. Identify the cartoon caption or title.

  2. 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?

  3. Record any important dates or numbers that appear in the cartoon.

  4. Which words or phrases in the cartoon appear to be the most significant?

  5. List adjectives that describe the emotions portrayed in the cartoon.


  1. Describe the action taking place in the cartoon. What is the significance of the cartoonist’s use of a star’s dressing room?

  2. Explain how the words in the cartoon clarify the symbols.

  3. Explain the message of the cartoon. Can you identify the images placed around the mirror? What do they signify?

  4. What is the cartoonist’s opinion on this issue?

  5. Who would agree or disagree with the cartoon’s message? Why?

  6. Did you find this cartoon informative? Why or why not?

  7. Did you find this cartoon persuasive (not all editorial cartoons are drawn to persuade, however)? Why or why not?

“The political cartoon is not a news story and not an oil portrait. It's essentially a means for poking fun, for puncturing pomposity.”

“The Cartoon by Herb Block” posted at




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Subject Headings Chronological Listing Value of Cartoons for Educational Purposes