Example Cartoon Analysis Essay

Visual Analysis Of Political Satire/Cartoon

The image I am analyzing is rather stark and begs the question, which is the more valuable commodity, brains or brawn? The image is clearly a commentary on the state of the American economy and, peripherally, the government. It has long been said of war that it is good for the economy, thereby implying with the statement, “I figure it’s easier to find a war than a job these days”, that the nation has adopted a somewhat cavalier attitude towards the act of war.

The cartoon succeeds as political and social satire because the image is based on simplicity of design, a complex statements presented through the visual elements and the manner in which the drawing conveys an immediate reality faced by those graduating from college or even high school. Because there is no background art whatever in this cartoon, the viewer is not distracted by background “noise” so the image itself is considerably more impactful, allowing the statement to take full effect.

It is this simplicity that engages and holds the viewer. The contents of the image are only the soldier/graduate and the academic/graduate. The image is balanced in symmetry, created a solid and central focal point for the viewer. The similarity in appearance between the two figures lends the impression that either of the figures could literally be any graduate, any person, anyone’s son or daughter, facing these kinds of challenges. The caption lends to the balance of the image. The only visual element that delineates a difference between the two figures is costume; one is a soldier, the other an academic.

A closer examination of the few visual elements of the cartoon carries more significant impact. The two figures are gripping their diplomas with their right hands, thus suggesting that these two place significant value on those diplomas. I do feel that the image minimizes the impact on the lives of enlisted persons in that going to war is a viable and simple option, even a better option. In the last several decades, war has been a prevalent option for many young people whether they hold a diploma of any kind or not.

The final element of the cartoon where visual impact is created is the sense of immediacy. Graduates – either high school or college – need to secure employment quickly and this image clearly conveys this. What is important here is that the image completely reflects the reality of the military having become a viable and reliable employer. The drawing itself expresses this quite well, in my opinion, because it is, in fact, a modern reality that young people can so causally discuss any scenario which could include death without an overwhelming sense of risk.

It is imperative that the elements of this cartoon be presented exactly as they are. The absolute simplicity of the image engages both the eye and the mind. So impactful is the images on its own, that it doesn’t even really need the statement included. The statement does lend a final bit of anchoring to the cartoon, but is not contingent in lending it final meaning.

The multiple messages regarding the economy, education, available employment and the government would be arrived at by any rational, logical thinking person.

Ultimately, this cartoon works quite well as social satire as the image leans heavily on the simplicity of the design while carrying a significant and impactful commentary.

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Organizing Your Analysis


This resource covers how to write a rhetorical analysis essay of primarily visual texts with a focus on demonstrating the author’s understanding of the rhetorical situation and design principles.

Contributors:Mark Pepper, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2015-08-30 05:01:04

There is no one perfect way to organize a rhetorical analysis essay. In fact, writers should always be a bit leery of plug-in formulas that offer a perfect essay format. Remember, organization itself is not the enemy, only organization without considering the specific demands of your particular writing task. That said, here are some general tips for plotting out the overall form of your essay.


Like any rhetorical analysis essay, an essay analyzing a visual document should quickly set the stage for what you’re doing. Try to cover the following concerns in the initial paragraphs:

  1. Make sure to let the reader know you’re performing a rhetorical analysis. Otherwise, they may expect you to take positions or make an evaluative argument that may not be coming.
  2. Clearly state what the document under consideration is and possibly give some pertinent background information about its history or development. The intro can be a good place for a quick, narrative summary of the document. The key word here is “quick, for you may be dealing with something large (for example, an entire episode of a cartoon like the Simpsons). Save more in-depth descriptions for your body paragraph analysis.
  3. If you’re dealing with a smaller document (like a photograph or an advertisement), and copyright allows, the introduction or first page is a good place to integrate it into your page.
  4. Give a basic run down of the rhetorical situation surrounding the document: the author, the audience, the purpose, the context, etc.

Thesis Statements and Focus

Many authors struggle with thesis statements or controlling ideas in regards to rhetorical analysis essays. There may be a temptation to think that merely announcing the text as a rhetorical analysis is purpose enough. However, especially depending on your essay’s length, your reader may need a more direct and clear statement of your intentions. Below are a few examples.

1. Clearly narrow the focus of what your essay will cover. Ask yourself if one or two design aspects of the document is interesting and complex enough to warrant a full analytical treatment.

The website for Amazon.com provides an excellent example of alignment and proximity to assist its visitors in navigating a potentially large and confusing amount of information.

2. Since visual documents often seek to move people towards a certain action (buying a product, attending an event, expressing a sentiment), an essay may analyze the rhetorical techniques used to accomplish this purpose. The thesis statement should reflect this goal.

The call-out flyer for the Purdue Rowing Team uses a mixture of dynamic imagery and tantalizing promises to create interest in potential, new members.

3. Rhetorical analysis can also easily lead to making original arguments. Performing the analysis may lead you to an argument; or vice versa, you may start with an argument and search for proof that supports it.

A close analysis of the female body images in the July 2007 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine reveals contradictions between the articles’ calls for self-esteem and the advertisements’ unrealistic, beauty demands.

These are merely suggestions. The best measure for what your focus and thesis statement should be the document itself and the demands of your writing situation. Remember that the main thrust of your thesis statement should be on how the document creates meaning and accomplishes its purposes. The OWl has additional information on writing thesis statements.

Analysis Order (Body Paragraphs)

Depending on the genre and size of the document under analysis, there are a number of logical ways to organize your body paragraphs. Below are a few possible options. Which ever you choose, the goal of your body paragraphs is to present parts of the document, give an extended analysis of how that part functions, and suggest how the part ties into a larger point (your thesis statement or goal).


This is the most straight-forward approach, but it can also be effective if done for a reason (as opposed to not being able to think of another way). For example, if you are analyzing a photo essay on the web or in a booklet, a chronological treatment allows you to present your insights in the same order that a viewer of the document experiences those images. It is likely that the images have been put in that order and juxtaposed for a reason, so this line of analysis can be easily integrated into the essay.

Be careful using chronological ordering when dealing with a document that contains a narrative (i.e. a television show or music video). Focusing on the chronological could easily lead you to plot summary which is not the point of a rhetorical analysis.


A spatial ordering covers the parts of a document in the order the eye is likely to scan them. This is different than chronological order, for that is dictated by pages or screens where spatial order concerns order amongst a single page or plane. There are no unwavering guidelines for this, but you can use the following general guidelines.

  • Left to right and top to down is still the normal reading and scanning pattern for English-speaking countries.
  • The eye will naturally look for centers. This may be the technical center of the page or the center of the largest item on the page.
  • Lines are often used to provide directions and paths for the eye to follow.
  • Research has shown that on web pages, the eye tends to linger in the top left quadrant before moving left to right. Only after spending a considerable amount of time on the top, visible portion of the page will they then scroll down.

Persuasive Appeals

The classic, rhetorical appeals are logos, pathos, and ethos. These concepts roughly correspond to the logic, emotion, and character of the document’s attempt to persuade. You can find more information on these concepts elsewhere on the OWL. Once you understand these devices, you could potentially order your essay by analyzing the document’s use of logos, ethos, and pathos in different sections.


The conclusion of a rhetorical analysis essay may not operate too differently from the conclusion of any other kind of essay. Still, many writers struggle with what a conclusion should or should not do. You can find tips elsewhere on the OWL on writing conclusions. In short, however, you should restate your main ideas and explain why they are important; restate your thesis; and outline further research or work you believe should be completed to further your efforts.


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