how does benjamin franklin use an analogy to express his viewpoint in this cartoon?

Benjamin Franklin's Snake: A Powerful Analogy for Colonial Unity
Benjamin Franklin's Snake: A Powerful Analogy for Colonial Unity


Benjamin Franklin, a man of science, wit, and political acumen, was also a master of visual communication.  His iconic 1754 political cartoon, "Join, or Die," remains one of the most enduring images in American history. In this simple yet powerful image, Franklin employed a compelling analogy to drive home his urgent message about the necessity of colonial unity.

The Severed Snake

The central image of  "Join, or Die" is a snake segmented into eight pieces. Each piece is labeled with the initials of a British American colony. The snake, a potent symbol in its own right, is clearly dead, its disjointed body representing the potentially fatal consequences of colonial disunity.

Franklin's analogy is striking. By comparing the colonies to the segments of a snake, he made several key points:

  • Fragility: Like the severed snake, each colony alone was weak and vulnerable to attack by external forces like the French and their Native American allies during the French and Indian War.
  • Interdependence: The snake cannot survive or function with its body separated. Similarly, Franklin argued the colonies could not thrive and defend themselves without cooperation and unified action.
  • Potential Power United:  While a dead snake is harmless, a whole, living snake can be a formidable creature. This underscored Franklin's belief that a united front would make the colonies a force to be reckoned with.

Biblical and Mythological Roots

Franklin's choice of the snake was not accidental. Snakes hold symbolic weight in both biblical stories and folklore. In some cultures, snakes represent danger, temptation, or deceit. However, they can also symbolize  rebirth, transformation, and healing.  Franklin likely played on this duality – the snake was both a representation of the danger of disunity and a symbol of the potential strength inherent in joining together.

The Impact of the Analogy

Franklin's cartoon, originally published in his Pennsylvania Gazette, was widely reprinted in other colonial newspapers. The image and message resonated with Americans concerned about the growing threat on the frontier. The analogy was quickly grasped, offering a simple and immediate visual understanding of a complex political concept.  

While the "Join, or Die" cartoon didn't immediately bring about colonial unity, it planted a powerful seed.  The image reemerged during the lead-up to the American Revolution and became a potent symbol of defiance and the necessity of collective action.

The Power of Visual Persuasion

Benjamin Franklin's "Join, or Die" highlights the enduring power of analogy within political communication. By harnessing the symbolic weight of a familiar object, Franklin created a memorable image that effectively distilled his message. His cartoon serves as a reminder that even in a text-driven world, visuals can be incredibly persuasive tools.

Post a Comment