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Interpreting Norman Rockwell’s Painting Concerning the 1948 Presidential Election

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
One hour
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Group discussion of Norman Rockwell’s painting from the October 30, 1948 cover of the Saturday Evening Post.
Rationale (why are you doing this?)


  • To help students understand and interpret artists’ at-the-time renderings. 
Lesson Objectives - the student will

Learn to understand symbolism, color choices and perspective when looking beyond the obvious in popular paintings, such as the Norman Rockwell rendering used in this lesson. 

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met


  • UCLA Department of History, National Center for History in the Schools, Historical Analysis and Interpretation, Historical Thinking Standard 3: Students engage in historical analysis and interpretation.
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed


  • Norman Rockwell painting, reflecting on the divisive nature of the 1948 Presidential Election, which

 appeared on the front cover of the Saturday Evening Post on October 30, 1948.  Widely available on

 various sites, such as 9481030.jpg (500×665) (


Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?


  • After an in-depth discussion of the 1948 Presidential Election, the instructor with provide a brief description of Norman Rockwell, explaining that most of his paintings reflected scenes, situations and events from everyday life, and that like all painters, he employed symbolism, colors and perspectives to enhance—if not expand—the message conveyed by the painting.


  • The instructor will then show students Rockwell’s painting concerning the divisive nature of the 1948 Presidential Election, and an in-depth discussion will follow, focusing on the not-so-obvious aspects of the painting and how they factor into the interpretation of the painting.
  • After identifying the obvious—the man supports Dewey and the woman favors Truman—the instructor will guide the ensuing discussion by asking pointed questions and—when necessary—providing background information.  
  • How old do you think this couple, presumably husband and wife, are?  (Perhaps early to mid-20s)
  • Why do you think Rockwell portrayed them as quite young?  Would an older couple have been as likely to have this heated disagreement?  (Probably not.  Since the voting age in the United States at this time was 21, could this have been the couple’s first Presidential Election of their married life?  (Probably)
  • Why do you suppose Rockwell portrayed the man as attempting to be dominant/aggressive and the woman as being more passive?  (Do these portrayals reflect the historic and popularly perceived dynamics of men and women in a married relationship at the time of the painting?  Probably.)  
  • What might tell you that this couple if fairly affluent?  (Two different daily newspapers.)
  • What, in the way Rockwell portrayed the man, would suggest why he supports Dewey?  (Appears to be a businessman, dressed in a suit and tie)
  • Why did Rockwell indicate bright sunshine coming in through the window?  (Is the disagreement “coming to light?”)
  • Why did Rockwell include a cat, dog and canary?  (Are these two people “political” animals?)
  • Why did Rockwell portray the man holding Dewey’s picture on his right and the woman holding Truman’s picture on her left?  (Does it reflect the general political party division of Republicans being right wing conservatives and the Democrats being left wing liberals?)  
Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide


  • This assignment will not be assessed individually, but as part of the unit exam, with students being asked to give at least two examples of how Rockwell used colors, perspectives and symbolism in this painting.