Bush, L. R. (2012) More Than Words: Rhetorical Devices in American Political Cartoons


This thesis argues that literary theory applied to political cartoons shows that cartoons are reasoned arguments. The rhetorical devices used in the cartoons mimic verbal devices used by essayists. These devices, in turn, make cartoons influential in that they have the power to persuade readers while making them laugh or smile. It also gives examples of literary theorists whose works can be applied to political cartooning, including Frederick Saussure, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Wolfgang Iser. Not only do those theorists' arguments apply to text, they also apply to pictorial representations. This thesis also discusses changes in the cartoon art form over the 250 years that American political cartoons have existed. Changes have occurred in both the way text and pictorial depictions have been presented by artists. This thesis makes some attempt to explain why the changes occurred and whether they have been for the better.

Citation Lawrence R. Bush (2012). More Than Words: Rhetorical Devices in American Political Cartoons (Master's Thesis, University of South Florida, Florida, USA). Thesis

BibTex entry for this thesis:

BibTex entry for this thesis:

address = {Florida, USA},
author = {Bush, Lawrence R.},
pages = {1--80},
school = {University of South Florida},
title = {{More Than Words: Rhetorical Devices in American Political Cartoons}},
type = {Master's Thesis},
year = {2012}

Key ideas

Table of contents

Introduction: Rhetorical Constructs
  • Pictorial Representations
  • Structuralism
  • Cartoon Theory
  • Female Representations
The Single-panel Tradition: Satirical Prints
  • Text Condensation
  • Bakhtinian Analysis
  • Embedded Panels
  • Political Cartoon Strips
  • Split Panels
  • Long Format Cartoon
Introductions may be in Order: Rhetorical Identification
  • Caricature Aids: Labeling
  • Fact-based Humor
Conveying Text: The Jigsaw Puzzle Approach
  • Yellow Journalism
  • Use of Titles
  • Three Examples
  • Balloons
  • Captions
  • Calligraphy


Introduction: Rhetorical Constructs

1) The rhetoric of political cartoons consists of more than words. It is a complex system of symbols, pictures, and words put together in a way that newspaper readers who understand the intended message of the cartoonist, will better understand the issue that the cartoonist addresses. (p. 1)

Research has shown that not everyone appreciates the cryptic drawings that appear every day on the opinion pages of the newspaper. (p. 1)

2) The term “political cartoon” refers to all cartoons that have a greater political than social bent. And, although there are many who feel that all social issues are political, in the cartoon arena, the two are separated. (p. 2)

3) An “editorial cartoon” is a political cartoon that is drawn contemporary to the issue that it examines. (p. 2)

4) Political cartoons provide more than just entertainment at the expense of politicians who may have committed a faux pas, they are critical analyses of current events. Like their counterparts on the opinion pages of newspapers, editorial cartoonists provide insight into issues that skimmers may have overlooked in their own analysis. (p. 4)

5) The political cartoon is a hybrid of text, pictorial representations, symbols, shadings, and humor that become a puzzle, a sophisticated rebus that is affectively engaging (p. 5)

6) The art of cartooning uses many different types of symbolism. This symbolism creates a vocabulary that does not simply consist of words, but are pictorial representations that cartoonists use repeatedly and skimmers are expected to understand. (p. 6)

7) Cartoonists use pictographs, symbols that represent an arbitrarily designated entity, to represent concepts (Structuralism) (p. 7)

The Single-panel Tradition: Satirical Prints

Introductions may be in Order: Rhetorical Identification

Conveying Text: The Jigsaw Puzzle Approach

Tables and figures

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