Norman Rockwell’s visual interpretation of ‘Freedom from Want’ is a bastion of domesticity and family life. The illustration shows a large family enjoying a meal in good spirits. This illustration is important to examine as the depression of the 1930s had left many families struggling to put food on the table and to provide even the basic necessities. However, with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and with him the policies of the New Deal, the idea of freedom and the expectation of the role of the government changed. FDR’s commitment to the ‘Four Freedoms’ was crucial in altering the role of government and in establishing a dependence and popularity for government involvement in social and economic issues.
Eric Foner argues in The Story of American Freedom that the depression had left people with a sense that the government should intervene more in economic issues and provide people with security. Foner cites a 1935 survey which found that among poor respondents ninety percent believed that the government should guarantee work for those who wanted it. (p.198) Roosevelt’s New Deal went some way towards changing society by introducing work programmes, housing and social security and encouraged a shift in how American’s viewed the responsibilities of the federal government. Roosevelt’s speech on the ‘Four Freedoms’ emphasised his belief that everyone, everywhere should enjoy these basic freedoms and also committed his government to ensuring that these four issues were of paramount importance.
The ‘Four Freedoms’ not only covered the basic needs of humanity but also placed America as a democratic force against the Fascist war raging in Europe at this time. The fact that Norman Rockwell depicted a homely scene as the illustration for ‘Freedom from Want’ is telling of what the average American viewed as important during this time of economic and international uncertainty.
(Queen’s University Belfast)