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In the Classroom > Picturing America Lessons

The Four Freedoms

Lesson created by: Deerfield Teachers' Center Staff

Grade Level: High School


19-A Norman Rockwell, Freedom of Speech, The Saturday Evening Post 1943, 1943

Freedom of Speech, The Saturday Evening Post

Norman Rockwell (1894–1978), Freedom of Speech, The Saturday Evening Post, February 20, 1943. Oil on canvas, 45 3/4 x 35 1/2 in. (116.205 x 90.170 cm.). The Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust, from the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Mass. www.nrm.org ©1943 SEPS: Licensed by Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, Ind. All rights reserved. www.curtispublishing.com.

Other Resources Needed for this Lesson

  • We're Fighting to Prevent This" (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/powers_of_persuasion/warning/images_html/fighting_to_prevent.html)
  • "Am I Proud!" (http://www.allposters.com/-sp/Am-I-Proud-Fighting-Famine-by-Canning-Food-at-Home-WWII-War-Propaganda-Art-Print-Poster-Posters_i8835912_.htm)
  • "Don't Waste Food" (http://www.swap-o-matic.com/wwii-conservation-ads/)
  • "Keep These Hands Off!" (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/powers_of_persuasion/warning/images_html/keep_these_hands_off.html)
  • "Don't Let That Shadow Touch Them" (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/powers_of_persuasion/warning/images_html/shadow.html)
  • "He's Watching You" (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/powers_of_persuasion/hes_watching_you/images_html/hes_watching_you.html)
  • "Never!" (http://www.awesomestories.com/images/user/3f77cdc077.gif)


    Students will understand that:
  • Norman Rockwell made conscious artistic choices about how best to reach the audience he wished to serve when he created his "Four Freedoms" paintings.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union address was Rockwell's inspiration for the paintings.
  • the paintings served other purposes beyond illustrating Roosevelt's four freedoms.

Focusing Statement

When Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his "Four Freedoms" State of the Union address in January of 1941, just shy of a year prior to America's entry into World War II, he could never have guessed the impact it would make on the artist Norman Rockwell and how the inspiration the artist gained from that speech would display itself and ripple out across the nation to touch the hearts of so many Americans. In this lesson students will examine closely "Freedom of Speech"; they will read excerpts from the "Four Freedoms" address and describe how a sampling of posters and ads created during WWII connect to it. Students will also ponder what made these paintings so incredibly popular and well-loved during that time.

Examining Expressive Content

    Show students Rockwell's "Freedom of Speech" image but don't show them the title. Ask:
  • What do you see? Tell me about this image.
  • What does your eye focus on first? Why?
  • Describe the speaker's facial expression.
  • How is he dressed in comparison to the other men around him? What might you then surmise?
  • One senses that the speaker is saying something important and is being regarded with respect. What did Rockwell do to make us think that?
  • Describe the mood of the gathering. How did Rockwell accomplish that?
  • Look carefully for a clue to the purpose of the gathering.
  • Describe what you think is going on in this scene.
  • The title of this painting is "Freedom of Speech". Norman Rockwell painted it in 1943. What was going on in the world then?

Read aloud the following excerpts from Bruce Heydt's online article, "Norman Rockwell and the Four Freedoms":

"The good people of Arlington, Vermont, did not have the war on their minds when they gathered for a town meeting one evening during the dog days of the summer of 1942. On the contrary, in contrast to the typically grim reports coming from the Pacific and European theaters early in the year, it was good news that drew Arlington townsfolk to their meeting: town councilors had announced plans to build a new school. Only one resident, Jim Edgerton, objected to the proposed building, and in the course of the evening's proceedings, he rose to speak.

No one at that town meeting agreed with Edgerton, but all of them honored his right to state his case, and all of them listened respectfully. Here was the first freedom, the freedom of speech, expressed in a simple, familiar American scene—the sort Rockwell excelled at depicting."

Suggested answers to these questions

Teaching Plan

  1. In 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented his State of the Union address, he gave four reasons why the United States should be involved in World War II. He titled his speech, "The Four Freedoms". Rockwell was so inspired by that speech that he created four paintings, known as "The Four Freedoms". Don't tell students what other freedoms are represented in the images. Set up around the room large versions of the other 3 images (they can be found online). Hand out the following WWII ads & posters and instruct students to place each ad or poster by its corresponding freedom. Then ask students to complete the title for each of Rockwell's freedom images.
    1. Parents checking on sleeping children: "Freedom from ___________"
    2. Woman serving turkey at Thanksgiving: "Freedom from _______________"
    3. People praying: "Freedom to ___________________"

      Use these images:
    • We're Fighting to Prevent This" (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/powers_of_persuasion/warning/images_html/fighting_to_prevent.html)
    • "Am I Proud!" (http://www.allposters.com/-sp/Am-I-Proud-Fighting-Famine-by-Canning-Food-at-Home-WWII-War-Propaganda-Art-Print-Poster-Posters_i8835912_.htm)
    • "Don't Waste Food" (http://www.swap-o-matic.com/wwii-conservation-ads/)
    • "Keep These Hands Off!" (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/powers_of_persuasion/warning/images_html/keep_these_hands_off.html)
    • "Don't Let That Shadow Touch Them" (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/powers_of_persuasion/warning/images_html/shadow.html)
    • "He's Watching You" (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/powers_of_persuasion/hes_watching_you/images_html/hes_watching_you.html)
    Pass around excerpts from Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" State of the Union speech and ask students to read and check how they did.
  2. Hand out:
    • What connection do these posters and ads have to Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech?
    • How might the public have been feeling at this time?
    • Aside from selling something, what purpose did these posters and ads serve?

Suggested answers to these questions

Putting It All Together

Look again at "Freedom of Speech".

  • What was it about these paintings that held the general public's interest and made them so popular?
  • What purpose might they have served beyond describing the importance of those freedoms?

Read the following excerpt from Bruce Heydt's article, "Norman Rockwell and the Four Freedoms".

"Roosevelt's Four Freedoms speech had struck a chord with Rockwell, but the lofty language contrasted sharply with Rockwell's folksy images of small-town America. 'I juggled the Four Freedoms around in my mind, reading a sentence here, a sentence there, trying to find a picture,' he later recalled. 'But it was so high-blown. Somehow I just couldn't get my mind around it.' So, while the Office of War Information (OWI) in Washington began churning out dozens of war posters, Rockwell sat pondering how he might bring such lofty words down to earth." www.americainwwii.com/articles/norman-rockwell-and-the-four-freedoms/

The Saturday Evening Post magazine featured The Four Freedoms in 4 of its issues in 1943 when the war was not going well. The Post's editor, Ben Hibbs, said that they "quickly became the best-known and most appreciated paintings of that era." After these issues appeared, the Post advertised sets of the images for sale and took 25,000 orders. The OWI then used The Four Freedoms to advertise its war bond drive and was successful in raising $133 million.

Now that you know more about it and the time when it was painted, what does "Freedom of Speech" represent to you? What more do you see in the image?


Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts & Literacy

Grades 6-12

  • Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
  • Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework

Gr. 8-12 World History II Learning Standards
WH II.25 Identify the goals, leadership, and post-war plans of the allied leaders. B. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Framework

By the end of basic study in grades 9-12 students will:
5.8 Demonstrate the ability to compare and contrast two or more works of art, orally and in writing, using appropriate vocabulary
5.9 Use published sources, either traditional or electronic, to research a body of work or an artist, and present findings in written or oral form
5.10 Critique their own work, the work of peers, and the work of professional artists, and demonstrate an understanding of the formal, cultural, and historical contexts of the work

By the end of extended study in grades 9-12 students will:
5.11 Analyze a body of work, or the work of one artist, explaining its meaning and impact on society, symbolism, and visual metaphor
5.12 Demonstrate an understanding how societal influences and prejudices may affect viewers' ways of perceiving works of art

Common Core Standards

English Language Arts Standards » History/Social Studies » Grade 11-12
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Informational Text » Grade 9-10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7 Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person's life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.9 Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (e.g., Washington's Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt's Four Freedoms speech, King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail"), including how they address related themes and concepts.

Gr. 11-12
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.

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