Caricature and National Character

The United States at War

By (author) Christopher J. Gilbert

Hardback - £79.95

Publication date:

Q2 2021

Length of book:

256 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271089768

According to a popular maxim, a nation at war reveals its true character. In this incisive work, Christopher Gilbert examines the long history of US war politics through the lens of political cartoons to provide new, unique insight into American cultural makeup and identity.

Tracing the comic representation of American values from the First World War to the War on Terror, Gilbert explores the power of humor—in particular, ludicrous exaggeration—to expose failures and lies and to illuminate values and virtues. He uses case studies of the artwork of four American cartoonists—James Montgomery Flagg, Dr. Seuss, Ollie Harrington, and Ann Telnaes—to craft a trenchant portrait of Americanism. Through an analysis of caricatures of Uncle Sam, the American Eagle, the Axis Powers, and President Trump as well as editorial cartoons commenting on issues of race and class on the home front, Gilbert portrays a culture rooted in ideas of manifest destiny, patriotism, and democracy for all, but plagued by ugly forms of nationalism, misogyny, racism, and violence.

Rich with examples of hilarious and masterfully drawn cartoons, this unflinching look at the evolution of our conflicted national character illustrates how American cartoonists use comedy, mockery, and wit to bring about much-needed national self-awareness. The book will be welcomed by scholars working in the fields of political science, rhetoric, and humor studies.

“By examining the editorial cartoons of James Montgomery Flagg, Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Ollie Harrington, and Ann Telnaes—whose powerful imagery ‘animated American values in war cultures from the First World War forward’—Gilbert provides a vigorously argued account of the contribution of political cartooning to the construction and deconstruction of contending national myths.”

—Kent Worcester, author of Silent Agitators: Cartoon Art from the Pages of “New Politics”