Understanding the Posters

Poster: "Volunteer for Victory"The success of wartime propaganda posters depends on their ability to exploit commonly held values and viewpoints. As cultural artifacts, the posters reveal the prevailing attitudes of a society under the extreme conditions of war, a factor which should be taken into account when interpreting their meaning.

To communicate well, posters must grab the viewer's attention and deliver a message in a matter of seconds through its complex arrangement of words and symbols. A poster's ability to do this reflects the conceptual and design choices made by its creator.

Images, text, composition, typography, and colour influence meaning. A poster can be powerful with a picture alone, as was demonstrated by the many striking images created during the Russian Revolution for a mostly illiterate audience.

Posters require a use of visual shorthand and symbolism to imply more than is shown. Some things to look for:

  • Images of women - depicted as victims; in traditional roles as wives and mothers; or ministering to the wounded as Red Cross "angels"
  • Images of children - threat to children's lives through the use of symbolic shadows, children doing their part by purchasing war savings stamps or anxiously awaiting their father's return from the battlefront
  • Stereotypes and caricatures of the enemy - such as Hitler in uniform with an exaggerated moustache and iron cross
  • Hitler mentioned by name - instead of referring to the Nazis or the Third Reich, the posters personify the evil of the Nazis in Hitler compared to German propaganda posters where he embodied everything good about the Reich
  • Symbols used for the allies - representations of Winston Churchill and the lion for Britain; beaver for Canada; stars and stripes for the United States

 Poster: "Buy Victory Bonds" 

Poster: "To Victory"









Interpreting the Posters

You can use the following questions as a guide when interpreting the posters:

  • What is the poster trying to say? What is its main message?
  • What emotions or feelings is the poster trying to provoke?
  • What techniques are used in the poster to reinforce an idea or value?
  • To what extent do you think the poster would be successful?
  • How does the poster depict the enemy? The home nation and its allies?
  • How would an enemy nation have illustrated a negative message about Canada or Canadians?
  • How is propaganda different from information?

Exhibition Areas

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