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Propaganda in Art During the Second World War Essay

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Updated: Oct 19th, 2021


Norman Rockwell’s propaganda images served as the inspiration for the people, struggling in World War 2. As the imagination of Roosevelt’s speech, had an immense effect on the public, and still, it may be regarded as the imagination of happiness and welfare. In the background of the Great Depression, and the Second World War this poster was the embodiment of the unification of generations, which takes place at the feast table. “The Four Freedoms” speech, proclaimed by Roosevelt was the greatest inspiration for the Americans to live for the future, and restore the country after the disasters.


The idea of the posers was taken from Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 speech to Congress, the “Four Freedoms” Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. This speech became the key program of the actions by the USA for the period of World War 2. (Coe, 2007) Painter Norman Rockwell created four images to illustrate the concepts. One of them “the Freedom of Want” is aimed to analyze in the current paper.


This work was selected because of the actuality of the current events in the worldwide financial system. The “Fight for freedom of Want” symbolizes the natural wish of every nation, of every family to live in freedom, and have everything that is significant for everyday life (Segal, 1996).

The poster of the times of the World War 2 appeared to be rather topical nowadays, as the financial world crisis may lead humanity to the deep indigence, as the wave of staff reductions has already touched the industrial objects and financial institutions. The current situation in the USA reminds the thirties of the twentieth century, when America needed Franklin D. Roosevelt, as someone, who could solve the matters of the Great Depression. Currently, the new depression is approaching, so, the new president’s administration should focus on the matters of solving the internal financial and social problems.

It is also necessary to mention that the poster, emphasizing the issue of unification (the unification of the family), maybe related to another one – “United We Win” by Alexander Liberman. This one claims the people of the US to unite, and work jointly for the common good. Unfortunately, this poster was not so popular as by Norman Rockwell, as it called people to forget about racial prejudices and work jointly. Some people clearly realized this necessity, while others could not imagine working jointly with Afro-Americans. Anyway, both posters call for unification: the unification of generations, and the unification of peoples.

Ours…to Fight for—Freedom from Want is the poster, which calls people to struggle for their own happiness, as president is not someone almighty, consequently, it is possible to overcome the crisis (or any other disaster) only jointly. In spite of the fact, that the poster shows the happy family at dinner, and there is no hint at warfare, it still reminds us of the disaster, which tore the world into the parts. The war was in the heads of the humans, and the pictures of a happy future reminded them of the necessity to struggle, to work double tides, with blood sweat, and tears.

The picture clearly shows the American Dream, which, according to the painter’s point of view, will be available for everyone, who takes part in the joint overcoming of the crisis.

Studying this image, the following features should be mentioned: a large family gathered for the feast dinner around the table in the dining room. The first association that arises is that it is the celebration of Thanksgiving day, as huge Turkey is served. The family silver is on the table, and the head of the family is going to make a speech. Children and grandchildren look happy, as the whole family has united.

The image is painted with the great feeling of family love, and the watcher may feel that he or she is at that feast table. The image also induces hunger, as the turkey is painted rather mouth-watering.

Analyzing the historical context of the paper, it is necessary to mention, that the series of the posters “The Four Freedoms” was not popular at first. The fact is that these freedoms were not required to visualize, as the people, suffering from war crises, could imagine these freedoms more vividly. Soon, the government decided to choose the pictures as the official propaganda of the happy after-war future. (Markowitz, 1973)

Here are the four freedoms, reproduced in the congress speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression… (Welles, 1943).

Rockwell himself could not serve in the army because of the age frames, but he aimed to help his country, and he decided to keep the competitive spirit of the nation by painting propaganda pictures. He selected to illustrated Roosevelt’s speeches. Getting inspired by the Four Freedoms, Rockwell created the greatest masterpieces of his entire career (Larson, 2001).


The economy of the USA, after overcoming the consequences of the Great Depression, faced another challenge – The Second World War. The government needed to satisfy minimal social requirements, and maintain the Military Machine in order to defeat the Yamamoto’s Japan, and then, after defeating Japan help the allies to defeat Hitler’s Germany.

Economic propaganda was essential for the warfare period, as people needed hope and inspiration. The fact is that inspiration was sought at every point, which reminded me of soon victory, happiness, and blossom.

Wartime propaganda prevailed in every element of American life in schools, churches, shops, offices, plants and factories, transports, and theaters. People found propaganda messages coming home, reading newspapers, magazines, on every page.

Many propaganda posters included clear enlightenments of how and why exact wartime regulations and plans were required. Most played on pride, patriotism fear, hatred, racism, revenge, and, surely, emotions. Actually, all these messages may seem naive and simple, but in the context of the contemporary financial crisis, the Four Freedoms may inspire people to struggle the drastic affairs, as their ancestors fought against the tyranny and despotism of Japan and Germany during the Second World War.

The cultural value of the posters by Norman Rockwell can not be overestimated, however Terry Teachout (2001) states the following on Norman Rockwell and his propaganda art: The greatest irony of all, of course, is that at his occasional best, Rockwell really was worthy of comparison to the Dutch genre painters of the seventeenth century, such as Pieter de Hooch, whose work he admired and emulated. In such poignantly understated Post covers as “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” (1950) and “Breaking Home Ties” (1954), Rockwell managed to shake off the easy, jokey charm of his better-known canvases and cut straight to the heart of the matter. (Teachout, 2001)

The regarded opinion fully corresponds the genius art by Norman Rockwell. The fact is that, he really became Picasso of his generation, as he managed to give hope for the whole nation by playing on their hopes, feelings and emotions. Originally, these emotions were called by the disaster, but it is necessary to mention, that these propaganda art joined people in their aspiration for happiness and blossom. The same should be stated on the matters of the current financial crisis. People should unite, forget all the racial prejudices, and aim to overcome the crisis, as the Soviet Union United States, Great Britain and France defeated the Nazi world disaster in 1945.

Influence of Posters

Actually, the images themselves could not influence the economy or the welfare of the citizens. Alone, these posters were only the burden for the economy (paper, paint, printing, sticking etc), and required essential resources. However, the final effect of the posters was aimed to mobilize people’s pride for their country, and make it blossom, in spite of the economic or politic disasters. The propaganda images by Norman Rockwell made people give away without asking back, as their country could not afford give back at that time. Everyone realized, that the struggle with the World Evil was much more essential and significant, than the current needs. It was the struggle not only against evil, it was the fight for the future, for the following generations, who would inherit this world. The matter of further generations is clearly shown in the “Ours…to Fight for—Freedom from Want”. The elder generation, children, grand children: all of them are happy, and welcoming. They do not mind to share their Turkey with the guests. The happy family at the feast table – is the essential part of the American Dream, which is the goal of every citizen, who is proud of living in the Superpower of the USA (Larson, 2001).


In the conclusion, it is necessary to mention, that propaganda rarely lives for so long time. Often, the propaganda posters turn to be the museum exhibits, or fill someone’s collection. The images by Norman Rockwell may be called the eternal inspiration, as still they may be used as the encouragement for American nation in the current financial crisis.

The “Ours…to Fight for—Freedom from Want” image is not only propaganda. It is the image of happiness itself, as people often forget about simple human happiness. It is claimed to remind, that happiness may be quite near, it is just necessary to look around, and smile at the surrounding people.


  1. Teachout, Terry. “Norman Rockwell.” Book Magazine 2001: 71.
  2. Coe, Kevin. “The Language of Freedom in the American Presidency, 1933-2006.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 37.3 (2007): 375
  3. Larson, Christina. “Norman Rockwell.” Washington Monthly 2001: 51.
  4. Markowitz, Norman D. The Rise and Fall of the People’s Century: Henry A. Wallace and American Liberalism, 1941-1948. New York: Free Press, 1973.
  5. Segal, Eric J. “Norman Rockwell and the Fashioning of American Masculinity.” The Art Bulletin 78.4 (1996): 633
  6. Welles, Sumner, and Nicholas Murray Butler. The World of the Four Freedoms. New York: Columbia University Press, 1943.
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