Example Of Essay On “Thievery” By Thomas Nast

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Humor, Comedy, Politics, Police, United States, America, Law, Beggar

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2021/02/18

The 1871 comic, “Thievery,” penned by Thomas Nast, was one of its kind at the time. Nast had set his sights on satirically righting many wrongs specified by the government at the time, using comics to draw attention to the heinous acts being perpetrated on the American public. Moreover, he used humor to shed light on the marginalized portion of society who was being persecuted by law enforcement, often for doing the same as the rich, but only to survive rather than to live more lavishly . While there were many comics of this sort released during this time that explained many concepts or explored different ideas, the comic, “Thievery,” explained the particular division between not only the rich and the poor, but also criminals and the innocent, and the ever-present division between the races. Nast applied his humorous approach to politics, showing the American people the seedy underbelly that existed behind rich people being praised, and criminals being arrested.
Popularized by Nast during the 1850’s through the 1870’s, political cartoons are now used as a viable historical resource according to, “The Cartoon as a Historical Source . With his partner, Harper’s Magazine, he was able to use comics to explain how portions of America’s government were falling into shambles. One of his best-known comics is entitled, “Thievery,” and he is best known for it because it involves the Tammany Ring and Boss Tweed. The initial mood of the comic is that of discipline and jubilance. It is separated into two panels. In the top panel, a large man, Boss Tweed, leaves the New York City Treasury to meet the adulation and salutes of the NYC police force. According to, “Thomas Nast and the American Political Scene,” Boss Tweed was a notorious crook, politician, and leader of the Tammany gang . The lower panel of the comic depicts a starving beggar stealing a loaf of bread from a bakery. It could be to feed himself or his family; regardless, he is forced away from the bakery by policemen, sticks raised in defense, prepared to beat the man. The comic is depicting two forms of theivery.
Clearly the purpose of the cartoon is to show that though both of the actions being performed are theivery, one is worse than the other. Nast uses caricature, as well as symbolism and juxtaposition in order to get his point across. Tweed is depicted as an obese, well-dressed politician, smiling as he leaves the treasury. The policemen do not act as it is theivery, most likely because Tweed is a man of politics and to be trusted; it would be unlikely that these people would do anything dishonest. For ridicule and juxtaposition, however, Nast included a skinny, starving begger stealing food in order to survive in order to add perspective to the idea of thievery. As such, the primary issue of the comic is thievery, as well as when it should be addressed and when it can be morally permissible. For example, Tweed leaves the treasury fat, dressed in lavish clothes, clearly not in need of any amenities, food, or any extras in life. As a politician, he is to be trusted and the presence of the trusting police show he is taking advantage of that completely . In contrast, the thievery committed the beggar is immediately noticed by law enforcement. Though the bread is likely being take so the man will not die, or so his family will survive, he is beaten away from the bakery and the bread is taken. The only conclusion we can draw is he and is family will die. Further analysis suggests that Tweed, a man who needs nothing and has all of the trust the voters can offer, takes advantage of it and will continue to take more resources than he needs, which may be why this beggar, now being beaten for his desperation to survive, is being beaten at all. Essentially, then, the comic analyzes the sociological cycle, wherein the 1% continue hoarding resources they do not need, preventing the 99% from rising to anything beyond stealing bread to survive, so to speak .
There are various symbols throughout the comic. The actions of the law enforcement is a symbol. Their doglike obedience toward anybody within politics is a symbol of the power that comes with the 1%, as well as the ability for those to take advantage of available resources. Furthermore, the immediate abusive reactions of the offficers toward the beggar and his family suggest law enforcement are waiting to reprimand anybody who does not display any sense of “true” power. The politician is fat, which in this case equals powerful and wealthy. The beggar is skinny and bedraggled, symbolizing his low stature in life and, therefore, the policemen’s right to beat him for stealing. These symbols, how the two are dressed, also symbolize the separation in their actions. The politician has somehow earned what he is taking, simply because he was born into a better social status than the beggar, and because he is fatter and wears better clothes. In contrast, the begger will never deserve anything he does not work for, or is not given, making his act thievery .
It is likely the intended audience was everyone. Many people were already aware of this division but, in hopes of not leaving them feeling alone, Nast created a comic allowing those individuals to know they were being noticed, and their views were accepted somewhere within publication. The comic was also meant for those who would disagree with it; the first step to changing a person’s mind is to introduce them to a new concept, hence showing them this ideal wherein Tweed was, in fact, a thief. Lastly, the ideas were meant for individuals with no opinion at all, perhaps in hopes they began forming opinions about American politics, what it means to be on the bottom, and the definition of thievery in America. The viewpoint represented in the comic is, of course, that of middle and lower class, as they would be the one’s attempting to broadcast this message. It may not have been the most effective, however, because it required so much analysis.
In sum, while the comic was politically driven and smart, it may not have done its job. It showed two types of thievery, making a point about political hierarchy and the 1% taking advantage. However, it requires further analysis and individuals may not want to delve so far into a comic in order to glean that information. Moreover, opponents of the articles views certainly will not assess it so deeply in order to have their views changed. Despite this, the comic is still a valuable piece of political history.

Works Cited

Kemnitz, Thomas Milton. "The Cartoon as a Historical Source." The Journal of Interdisciplinary History (1973): 81-93. Article.
Vinson, J. Chal. "Thomas Nast and the American Political Scene." American Quarterly (1957): 337-344. Article.

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WePapers. (2021, February, 18) Example Of Essay On “Thievery” By Thomas Nast. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://www.wepapers.com/samples/example-of-essay-on-thievery-by-thomas-nast/
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Example Of Essay On “Thievery” By Thomas Nast. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/example-of-essay-on-thievery-by-thomas-nast/. Published Feb 18, 2021. Accessed November 29, 2022.

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