Norton Digital History Analysis Worksheet

Sample Media Worksheet. "Remembering the Sit-Ins"

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1. Observation

What are the primary objects or people that you see in the cartoon? (List them)

Four people; one of whom is African American
The silhouette of a lynched man on a light post
The American flag
The hat of a Union soldier
Ballot box

Which of the objects appear to be symbols?

Almost this entire cartoon is symbolic. Some of the major symbols are as follows; the American flag, the ballot box, the Union hat, each of the objects that the three men are holding in their hands, and the burning building in the background. Each man also is a symbol of what he represents, especially the Irish man and the African American.

2. Expression

What do you find meaningful in the objects or symbols in this cartoon?

Nast really capitalizes on the stereotypes of the day in his portrayal of the three white men. The Irish man on the left, with his hat that reads 5 Points for the area of New York City where he probably lives, looks almost like an animal. He is coarse, ill-dressed, and his characterization here captures the feeling of racism that was directed towards many of the Irish immigrants during the nineteenth century. The figure of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the middle, shown in his Confederate uniform, is shown about to plunge his knife into the victim on the ground. On the far right is what looks like a Southern business man ready to make deals with the other "white men" in support of his particular economic interests.

The figure on the ground represents the plight of the African American at the hands of the Democratic Party. The fact that he is wearing a Union uniform reminds the viewer that African Americans played a major role in the fighting and winning of the Civil War. The violation of this fighting man's citizenship rights was, therefore, all the more shocking and reprehensible.

Also important are the small details Nast inserts into the image. The American flag on the ground, being trampled along with the soldier would be quite a provocative image at the time. Also the fact that the ballot box has fallen to the ground also suggests the state that democracy is in. Each individual detail of the cartoon is evocative of an event, place, or sentiment that helps convey Nast's ideas.

Do the words in the cartoon clarify the symbols and actions? (Explain)

What little words there are in the actual cartoon and the caption at the bottom help to clarify the symbolism of the images. In the band of the Irishman's hat, 5 points is written. The 5 points of New York was the section of the city where many of the city's Irish, as well as other immigrants lived. Therefore at once the viewer understands who this character is supposed to represent: the usually impoverished immigrant who competes directly with African Americans for low paying work and tends to vote with the Democratic Party. The knife that Forrest holds is entitled "The Lost Cause;" his Confederate uniform makes his point of view obvious.

The caption at the bottom of the cartoon reads "We regard the Reconstruction Acts (so called) of Congress as usurpations, and unconstitutional, revolutionary, and void." - Democratic Platform. Thus the viewer begins to understand that this is an attack against the Democratic Party. This would have been an effective campaign cartoon for the Republican Party. This way Nast can show the wrongs the Democratic Party has done to African Americans since the Civil War ended. Obviously one of their perceived concerns was that African Americans who fought in the war would be able to vote with the passage of the Reconstruction Acts -- hence the placing of the soldier reaching for the ballot box. There is the sense that the three factions of the Democratic Platform are able to stop the African American soldier from being able to exercise his right to vote.

3. Connection

How well does this cartoon convey its meaning within the context of its point in history?

This cartoon is very effective in conveying Nast's political views. As mentioned above, every object in this work is evocative of something that most viewers would be familiar with. While some of the symbolism may be lost on modern viewers, each symbol, once identified does serve to illuminate the situation more. Important as well is that not only does this image reveal Nast's attitudes towards the Democratic Platform, but it also illuminates the racism of the time. And here the racism is not directed towards the African American figure. Nast is saying that the Democrats are racist, yes, but Nast himself comes across as somewhat xenophobic with his ape-like portrayal of the Irish American.