Analyze the cartoon "Fire!", considering the action, words, symbols, messages, and audience reactions.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since this question is posted under the title of The Crucible, it will be assumed that the responses should be relevant to the historical setting of both the play and the issues of the McCarthy era, which prompted Arthur Miller to write The Crucible. (This cartoon is from that era.)

1. Describe the action that takes place in the cartoon.

A man who represents mass hysteria climbs the ladder to douse the fire of the torch held by the Statue of Liberty. This action will extinguish the freedom that people have to speak and to act.

2. Explain how the words in the cartoon clarify the symbols.

"Fire!" - This word is shouted in alarm when a blaze occurs that is unexpected and dangerous. The torch held by Lady Liberty is meant to be a beacon of freedom for immigrants entering the United States, as well as a reminder to American citizens of their freedoms; however, if this fire is put out, then the symbolism of the torch is altered. An empty torch promises nothing; one whose fire has been extinguished indicates control put upon it.

"Hysteria" written on the man's pant leg suggests a certain irrationality and unreasonableness to the extinguishing of the fire of freedom. There is a control taken over the torch that is unjust and irrationally against the freedoms which the Statue of Liberty represents; thus, it is a control taken by a radical group.

3. Explain the message of the cartoon

Mass hysteria is irrational and, therefore, dangerous. The man with the bucket of water does not stop to consider that the fire in the torch may be burning for a reason; he sees a fire, shouts "Fire!" and rushes to put out this fire. He does not consider all the consequences of what he may be doing; in assuming that something is only one thing and a danger, personal freedom and liberty is eliminated. The torch may be burning for a good reason.

In The Crucible, in Act III, the girls turn hysterically upon Mary Warren; Abigail leads the girls in pretending that Mary is a bird who has come to tear out their eyes. Soon the emotional pitch is so high that Arthur Miller includes in his stage directions,

She and all the girls run to one wall, shielding their eyes.  And now, as though cornered, they let out a gigantic scream, and Mary, as though infected, opens her mouth and screams with them.

During the McCarthy era, hysteria was so great that Herb Block, who opposed what Senator McCarthy was doing, wrote,

The FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, helped provide the committee with material from its aptly named ‘raw files'. Some producers, directors and screen writers refused to testify or to play the ‘name game' in which the committee demanded the names of associates, who could then be called on to name others thus providing an ever-expanding list of suspects to be summoned.

4. What special interest groups would agree/disagree with the cartoon's message?

In The Crucible all the petty people who have something against someone would be glad to silence those whom they hold in contempt. They use the religious hysteria as a weapon of cruelty against others, destroying them. Abigail serves as a prime example. Because she has been rejected by John Proctor, she leads the hysteria that punishes his wife and John both.

During the Red Scare, in a hysteria fueled by Senator Joseph McCarthy, countless innocent people saw their lives destroyed in the name of rooting out Communism.

  • Groups that would agree

Nowadays, certain radical environmental groups that exert extreme controls have caused more damage than benefits in their hysteria. In California, for instance, where there are severe water shortages, exaggerated restrictions and preventative measures against the construction of new reservoirs have exacerbated the shortages. According to one report,

...substantial amounts of stored snowmelt were released from mountain dams and allowed to flow freely to the Pacific Ocean. Farmers called that wasted water; environmentalists called it a return to a “natural, pre-industrial California."

Those that wish to limit the First Amendment certainly want to put out the fire of personal liberty under the guise of political correctness or people's safety.

  • Those that would disagree

A special interest group such as the American Farm Bureau would be against many of the environmental extremist controls that limit water supplies, hamper crop production and crop location, and other agricultural efforts.