Norman Rockwell was a painter during the 20th century who created paintings and illustrations depicting everyday life. Rockwell created Freedom of Speech in 1943 as part of a series known as Four Freedoms. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address inspired Rockwell’s paintings.
Freedom of Speech depicts a town meeting in which an average, working class man appears to be expressing himself and his viewpoints. He is standing by himself while the rest of the audience is respectively listening, which shows even dissenters (assuming that he is dissenting) have the right to speak freely. Since this painting was made in 1943, during World War II, I imagine it was meant to uphold the values of American democracy and freedom. Freedom of Speech was later used to promote the buying of war bonds, in order to show American citizens that their freedoms were at stake if the U.S. should lose the war to the Nazis and their backward ideology.
Even though this painting promoted the idea of freedom of speech, the people depicted in this photo are white, revealing the racist attitudes present in America during the mid-20th century. Additionally, the crowd appears to be made up entirely of men, aside from one woman who is almost completely hidden behind the man in the black suit. When I saw the woman I noticed that her mouth was covered, almost suggesting that women should be seen and not heard. I could be reading too much into this, but even though the message of this painting is that in America you have the freedom of speech, it appears that only hard-working, white men have this right.
Despite Rockwell’s paintings being easily recognizable, I do not think Rockwell can be considered an icon, at least not in present day. My grandmother who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II had at least five Rockwell paintings in her home. To her, Rockwell was probably iconic. I think his paintings represent the American Dream and the middle class values of the mid-20th century, but those ideals have changed today. I think Rockwell’s paintings were much more representative of my grandmother’s generation, and even my parent’s generation, but the paintings and illustrations may not be as relatable to people who are fifty and under. I think Rockwell’s paintings are cute and charming, but when I see them, I think of the past, not the present or future.