Authors: Elizabeth Byrne-Lo, Ilan Danjoux
Editor: Ruth Sandwell
Series Editor: Roland Case
A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14 to 16
One of the controversial incidents of the Cold War was the death of Herbert Norman, a 48 year-old Canadian diplomat. On April 4, 1957, while stationed in Egypt, he left his wife at their Cairo hotel, took the elevator up to the top of another building and walked off its rooftop to his death. His suicide created a political storm after it was revealed that he had been accused of communist sympathies by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in the United States. This accusation was even more upsetting because Norman had already been cleared of any Communist associations in an extensive RCMP investigation after the U.S. Government had made similar accusations several years earlier.
The Norman incident is indicative of the unfounded fear and overreactions that were common in Canada during the Cold War era. Political cartoons were one way to ridicule what some considered to be the excessive efforts of governments to identify and punish suspected communist sympathizers. What can we learn about the Cold War by studying the political cartoons of the time? Are they effective in offering critical commentary about the excesses of that era?
This MysteryQuest invites you revise political cartoons created during the Cold War based on information found in newspaper articles published at that time. To accomplish this task, you will learn more about Herbert Norman and the Cold War. You will then be introduced to four techniques used by cartoonists to communicate their message visually. These techniques will help you examine Cold War cartoons and suggest ways to enhance the message by adding additional features. Finally you will interpret and adapt two political cartoons based on newspaper articles that address similar Cold War issues.
To learn more about the life and times of Herbert Norman, read the background sheet, Herbert Norman and the Cold War. Highlight or underline up to ten important details that relate to the main conclusion of this article. After doing this, formulate the overall message or main idea of the article in one or two sentences.
Political cartoons offer a unique perspective into a historical period. Often published within hours of the events they cover, they offer immediate and unfiltered interpretation of emerging issues. Interpreting political cartoons requires knowledge of the visual techniques that cartoonists use to communicate their message:
Practice recognizing these features by examining RCMP Dilemma, a cartoon published in The Ottawa Journal in 1957. Use the chart, Decoding Political Cartoons to identify one or more examples of each of the four techniques, and to explain what each might mean. For example, you might identify the snowshoes in the cartoon as an example of symbolism. The inclusion of snowshoes might suggest that the artist didn't think that the RCMP was very sophisticated in its technology. After analyzing the specific features of the cartoon, decide on the cartoon's overall message. Record this statement supported with references to features in the cartoon on the bottom part of the chart. Remember that cartoon elements often work together to communicate the message.
Political cartoons differ in style and depth of analysis from written articles. It is interesting to compare how the same event is represented in a cartoon and an article. Re-examine the cartoon in the previous example and compare it with Unexplained Role of RCMP in the Norman Case, the accompanying newspaper article that was published on the same page. Use the chart Representing Ideas in a Cartoon to identify the conclusions and supporting details from the article that are not included in the political cartoon. Then suggest one change for each of the four cartooning techniques to make the cartoon more closely reflect the article's message. Explain your proposed changes to the cartoon. For example, you might add a faded poster with a statement "We always get our man" to suggest that the RCMP may not have been as effective as it once was in tracking down criminals. Modify the cartoon itself by sketching your suggested changes on a printed copy of the drawing.
Having familiarized yourself with the elements of cartoon design, your task is to adapt two political cartoons to make them more representative of the conclusions in two related newspaper articles. To ensure your cartoons reflect the style of the time, you are asked to modify existing cartoons on the same topic but whose message differs from the newspaper articles you will depict. The two sets of documents to work with are:
Complete each of these tasks in three stages:
Select what you consider to be the best of the two modified cartoons. Use the evaluation rubric Assessing the Representation of Ideas to assess how accurately and clearly you analyzed the cartoon's key features and whether your proposed changes to the cartoon accurately and appropriately represented the differences in the article's message.
Background: Herbert Norman and the Cold War
Activity Sheet: Decoding Political Cartoons
Activity Sheet: Representing Ideas in a Cartoon
Depict an article as a political cartoon
Read the article The Norman Case is Closed. After identifying its main idea and support details, create an original cartoon to visually represent the intended message. Be sure to use all four cartooning techniques.
Create a Herbert Norman cartoon
Create a cartoon that summarizes the main factors or elements in the Herbert Norman case. Decide which elements of his life should be exaggerated (distorted) to show their importance and which symbols you would use to denote his affiliations. Think of where you would place other actors or objects and what words you might use to enhance the image. Draw a sketch that integrates each of the four techniques of political cartooning
Are cartoons effective?
Based on your comparisons of political cartoons and newspaper articles, what conclusions can you draw about the relative effectiveness of these two modes of communication in exposing the excessive efforts of the anti-communist movement. List the strengths and weaknesses of each and offer an overall assessment.
Explore other challenges
Extend your knowledge by exploring other issues associated with the Herbert Norman case:
Photographs, Paintings or Drawings
Newspaper or Magazine Articles