Analyzing Political Cartoons: School Begins

8 Oct No Comments

Analyzing Political Cartoons: School Begins

HIS 206: United States History II

Characters in the Cartoon

The characters present in this cartoon are Uncle Sam representing a teacher, students representing Philippines, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Cuba, and students representing the following states: California, Texas, Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, and others that do not have the names visible these students include an Alaskan native and a Mexican Americans. There is also an African American, a Chinese immigrant and a Native American represented in the cartoon.

Symbols and Actions Employed in the Cartoon

The Chinese immigrant is standing outside the classroom symbolizing the exclusions and restrictions of Chinese immigrants. The Native American is sitting in a chair by the door to the classroom reading a book upside down symbolizing “failure in Native American domestic policy” (Barnes & Bowles, 2015). The single African American is on a ladder cleaning a window behind Uncle Sam, symbolizing the treatment of African Americans as second class citizens. The group of mainly white students, the Native Alaskan and the Mexican Americans reading books in the back of the class all symbolize the U.S. government taking land by force from other nations. Uncle Sam symbolizes America as the teacher. He has a stern look on his face and is pointing at students in the front row who represent Philippines, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Cuba and they all look unhappy and uncomfortable. I think this symbolizes America forcing them to assimilate and take on American ways.

Issues Raised by Cartoon

The main issue raised by the cartoon School Begins is America forcing assimilation on the people’s land they acquired and the difficulty and resistance from the people being assimilated. Even though America forced people to assimilate into their culture, they did not treat them as equals. This is represented by the African American, the Native American and the Chinese Immigrant. Hawaii, Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba represent people from newly acquired land being forced to assimilate and putting up resistance. This also raises the issue of racism. The good, happy, model students are all white inferring the white race is more advanced than others in the cartoon.

What does the cartoon say about the consequences of the Spanish American War for the countries occupied?

The cartoon say that as a consequence of the Spanish American War, people of the land that was acquired by America lose their cultural identity and are forced to assimilate with white Americans. They are forced to live like them but are not treated equally, they are looked at as inferior people.

Describe how your understanding of the cartoon changed after doing the analysis portion of this exercise.

When I first looked at the cartoon I didn’t notice all of the little details such as the Native American’s book is upside down. I also did not know how to analyze it. After listing out the characters in the cartoon and thinking about the symbolism I started to better understand what the artist was trying to show the reader. The cartoon went from having no meaning to making sense to me.


Barnes, L. Diane & Bowles, Mark D. (2015). The American Story: Perspectives and Encounters from 1877

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