How to Read Donald Duck

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How to Read Donald Duck
Author Ariel Dorfman
Armand Mattelart
Original title Para leer al Pato Donald
Country Chile
Language Spanish
Publication date

How to Read Donald Duck (Para leer al Pato Donald in Spanish) is a Marxist political analysis by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart on what they perceive is cultural imperialism in popular entertainment, published in 1972 in Chile (then headed by Soviet-aligned Salvador Allende during the Cold War). Written in the form of essay (or, in the authors' words, a "decolonization manual"[1]), the book is an analysis of mass literature, specifically the Disney comics published for the Latin American market. It is one of the first social studies of entertainment and the leisure industry from a political-ideological angle, and the book deals extensively with the political role of children's literature.[2]


The book's thesis is that Disney comics are not only a reflection of the prevailing ideology at the time (capitalism), but that they are also aware of this, and are active agents in spreading the ideology. To do so, Disney comics use images of the everyday world:

"Here lies Disney's inventive (product of his era), rejecting the crude and explicit scheme of adventure strips, that came up at the same time. The ideological background is without any doubt the same: but Disney, not showing any open repressive force, is much more dangerous. The division between Bruce Wayne and Batman is the projection of fantasy outside the ordinary world to save it. Disney colonizes the everyday world, at hand of ordinary man and his common problems, with the analgesic of a child's imagination".[3]

This closeness to everyday life is so only in appearance, because the world shown in the comics, according to the thesis, is based on ideological concepts, resulting in a set of natural rules that lead to the acceptance of particular ideas about capital, the developed countries' relationship with the third world, gender roles, etc.

As an example, the book considers the lack of descendants of the characters.[4] Everybody has an uncle or nephew, everybody is a cousin of someone, but nobody has fathers or sons. The only mother shown on a regular basis is Beagle Boy's mother, who lives outside the law and who almost never shows affection to her offspring. This non-parental reality creates horizontal levels in society, where there is no hierarchic order, except the one given by the amount of money and wealth possessed by each, and where there is almost no solidarity among those of the same level, creating a situation where the only thing left is crude competition.[5] Another issue analyzed is the absolute necessity to have a stroke of luck for social mobility (regardless of the effort or intelligence involved),[6] the lack of ability of the native tribes to manage their wealth,[7] and others.


Thomas Andrae, who is an author on Carl Barks, has criticized the thesis of Dorfman and Mattelart. Andrae writes that it is not true that Disney controlled the work of every cartoonist, and that cartoonists had almost completely free hands unlike those who worked with animations. According to Andrae, Carl Barks did not even know that his cartoons were read outside the United States in the 1950s. Lastly, he writes that Barks cartoons include social criticism and even anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist references.[8]


  1. ^ Review on Cú
  2. ^ Lucas R. Berone La semiótica en cuestión, o sobre cómo leer al Pato Donald. Univ. Nac. de Córdoba.
  3. ^ Dorfman A., Mattelart A. Para leer al pato Donald p141. Siglo XXI editors. 1983 (free translation)
  4. ^ Dorfman A., Mattelart A. Para leer al pato Donald p23. 1983. Besides the lack of descendants, there is a complete lack of libido or sexuality. The quote at the beginning of this chapter is remarkable:
    • "Daisy:If you teach me how to skate this afternoon I'll give you what you have always wanted.
    • Donald:Do you mean...?
    • Daisy: Yes... my 1872 coin"
  5. ^ Dorfman A., Mattelart A. Para leer al pato Donald p35. 1983.
  6. ^ Dorfman A., Mattelart A. Para leer al pato Donald p139. 1983.
  7. ^ Dorfman A., Mattelart A. Para leer al pato Donald p53. 1983.
  8. ^ Andrae, Thomas (2006), Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book: Unmasking the Myth of Modernity, Univ. Press of Mississippi, ISBN 1578068584 

Further reading[edit]

  • Robert Boyd. "Uncle $crooge, Imperialist" Comics Journal #138 (October 1990), pp. 52–55.
  • Dana Gabbard and Geoffrey Blum. "The Color of Truth is Gray." Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge Adventures in Color #24 (1997), pp. 23–26. Critical analysis by two experts on Carl Barks.
  • David Kunzle. "The Parts That Got Left Out of the Donald Duck Book, or, How Karl Marx Prevailed over Carl Barks." Paper presented to the Marxism and Art History session of the College Art Association Meeting in Chicago, February 1976 (1977), pp. 15–22. Kunzle's experiences in doing the English-language translation.