How to Read Donald Duck

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How to Read Donald Duck
Para leer al Pato Donald, Ediciones Universitarias de Valparaiso, 1971.jpg
Author Ariel Dorfman
Armand Mattelart
Original title Para leer al Pato Donald
Translator David Kunzle
Country Chile
Language Spanish
Publication date
Published in English

How to Read Donald Duck (Para leer al Pato Donald in Spanish) is a work of Marxist[1][2] cultural analysis by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart on what they perceive is cultural imperialism in popular entertainment, published in Chile in 1971, which was then headed by Soviet-aligned[dubious ][relevant? ] Salvador Allende during the Cold War). It has been labelled by some[weasel words] as communist propaganda.[3][self-published source?]


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".[4]

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.[5] Everybody has an uncle or nephew, everybody is a cousin of someone, but nobody has fathers or sons. 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.[6] Another issue analyzed is the absolute necessity to have a stroke of luck for social mobility (regardless of the effort or intelligence involved),[7] the lack of ability of the native tribes to manage their wealth,[8] and others.


How to Read Donald Duck was the most widely printed essay in Latin America during the 1970s.[1] The book was initially banned from publication in the United States, but appeared in translation in the United Kingdom in 1975.[1] After the 1973 Chilean coup d'état, the junta ordered the copies in Chile burnt.[1]

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.[9]

David Kunzle, who translated the book into English, spoke to Carl Barks for his introduction and came to a similar conclusion. He believes Barks projected his own experience as an underpaid cartoonist onto Donald Duck, and views some of his stories as satires "in which the imperialist Duckburgers come off looking as foolish as—and far meaner than—the innocent Third World natives".[10]


  1. ^ a b c d Jason Jolley. Ariel Dorfman (1942-). The Literary Encyclopedia (2009)
  2. ^ Kurtz, Stanley (2014-08-25). "How the College Board Politicized U.S. History". National Review. Retrieved 2014-08-30. 
  3. ^ Patanella, Dan (1997). "Goodbye, Carl Barks". Retrieved August 21, 2014. 
  4. ^ Dorfman A., Mattelart A. Para leer al pato Donald p141. Siglo XXI editors. 1983 (free translation)
  5. ^ 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"
  6. ^ Dorfman A., Mattelart A. Para leer al pato Donald p35. 1983.
  7. ^ Dorfman A., Mattelart A. Para leer al pato Donald p139. 1983.
  8. ^ Dorfman A., Mattelart A. Para leer al pato Donald p53. 1983.
  9. ^ Andrae, Thomas (2006), Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book: Unmasking the Myth of Modernity, Univ. Press of Mississippi, ISBN 1578068584 
  10. ^ David Kunzle. "The Parts That Got Left Out of the Donald Duck Book, or, How Karl Marx Prevailed over Carl Barks." ImageText 6(2).

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.