How Are Symbols Used in a Political Cartoons?

According to the Library of Congress, symbols in political cartoons are used to convey a larger concept or idea. Symbolism is a common element in political cartoons, and it can play an important part in cartoon analysis.

There are several different tools that cartoonists use to create humor or to convey specific messages in political cartoons. According to the Northeastern Regional Information Center’s eLearning unit, some commonly recognized simple symbols are used to represent abstract concepts such as peace, the United States, political factions or parties, money, villains and heroes. The symbols associated with these concepts include doves for peace, Uncle Sam for the United States, donkeys and elephants for the two major political parties in the United States, dollar bills or dollar signs for money and black or white for villains and heroes, respectively.

Buffalo State College explains that political cartoons have existed for hundreds of years. Also known as editorial cartoons, these strips can be found in newspapers, magazines and textbooks as well as on the Internet. These historical cartoons can be used by students to evaluate the feelings and sentiments of everyday citizens about a certain event or time period. A political cartoonist may also use or label new symbols to make the audience associate a stereotype with a particular concept.