Norman Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech painting, published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1943, is the first of a series of four paintings called Four Freedoms. Inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address, Roosevelt outlined the Four Freedoms as the basic freedoms that Americans have the right to enjoy. The Freedom of Speech painting represents one of these freedoms by depicting an ordinary citizen standing up to speak while the audience listens attentively and respectfully.
Rockwell’s portrayal emphasizes the American right to free speech and ability to speak without fear of censure. In this particular piece, he depicts a town hall meeting where citizens are permitted to speak out on issues affecting their community without any retribution or backlash from those in power. This stands for both figurative and literal freedom because it shows people that they can make themselves heard without consequence.
The notoriety established by FDR’s State of The Union Address has become iconic with several adaptations throughout history notably Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech at Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C wherein he mentioned Rockwell’s Four Freedoms manifesto directly acknowledging its influence on his beliefs and values propagated during the civil rights movement in America. Today, Four Freedoms series including Freedom Of Speech remains Rockwell’s most enduring legacy exemplifying his ideals as an artist which continue inspiring generations across America even today.