What character(s) are in the cartoon:
In the cartoon we see Uncle Sam, the recently acquired territories of the Philippines, Hawaii,
Puerto Rico, and Cuba. We also see the various states, a Chinese American, a Native
American, and an African American.
What symbols and actions does the artist employ in the cartoon:
The cartoon uses the symbolism of a classroom in which Uncle Sam, or America, is the
teacher. The Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Cuba are identified using labelling, are
portrayed using racist exaggeration, and are depicted as bad students who Uncle Sam is in the
process of punishing them. The American states are also identified using labelling, and are
portrayed as well behaved white students; the white students are portrayed without racist
exaggeration of their features. An African American is depicted cleaning the windows; racist
exaggeration is used in his portrayal. A Native American sits by the door, seemingly
struggling to read, again, racist exaggeration is used in this depiction. A Chinese American
stands outside the door, depicted using racist exaggeration.
What issues does the cartoon raise:
The cartoon raises issues of dominance, racism, progress, and paternalism.
By presenting the American Empire as a classroom, the cartoon raises the issue of racism and
American superiority. Both Uncle Sam as the teacher, and the States as model students are
portrayed as white, perpetuating the idea that white Americans were more advanced. African
Americans, Native Americans, Chinese Americans, and the people of the Philippines, Hawaii,
Puerto Rico, and Cuba, were portrayed in racist caricature as the reluctant beneficiaries of
Uncle Sam’s instruction.
The cartoon depicts the newly acquired American Empire as a classroom in which
“civilization” is taught. The cartoon illustrates the kind of paternalism that we see in Kipling’s
poem “The White Man’s Burden”. As Barnes and Bowles (2015) point out “The poem
suggests that providing noble service to the inhabitants of the developing world justified the
desire for empire. Viewed as a benevolent enterprise, imperialism also made the domination
of another nation’s economic and political structure seem necessary and helpful” (Section
What does the cartoon say about the consequences of the Spanish American War for the
The cartoon illustrates how the countries occupied by the Spanish American war lost their
right to determine their own future. Instead, their future was determined for them by the
United States. Instead of determining for themselves who and what they were, they were
placed on the bottom of a hierarchy, treated as if they were less civilized, and in need of strict
discipline. All the while the United States was gaining access to their resources, and using
their location for strategic military purposes.
How did your understanding of the cartoon change after doing the analysis exercise?
Before doing the exercise, I recognized that the cartoon was depicting a classroom, with
different races of students. The analysis exercise helped me to better understand the classroom
in the cartoon was a symbol of the American Empire after the Spanish American War. The
exercise also helped me see the way that racism both at home and abroad were being depicted
in the cartoon.
Barnes, L. & Bowles, M. (2014).The American story: Perspectives and encounters from 1877.
San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.