How to Read Donald Duck
AuthorsAriel Dorfman
Armand Mattelart
Original titlePara leer al Pato Donald
TranslatorDavid Kunzle
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint

How to Read Donald Duck (Spanish: Para leer al Pato Donald) is a 1971 book-length essay by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart that critiques Disney comics from a Marxist point of view as capitalist propaganda for American corporate and cultural imperialism.[1][2] It was first published in Chile in 1971, became a bestseller throughout Latin America[3] and is still considered a seminal work in cultural studies.[4] It was reissued in August 2018 to a general audience in the United States, with a new introduction by Dorfman, by OR Books.


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".

— Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, How to Read Donald Duck, p. 148

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.

Publication history

Soldiers burning books in Chile, 1973

How to Read Donald Duck was written and published by Ediciones Universitarias de Valparaíso, belonging to the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso, during the brief flowering of democratic socialism under the government of Salvador Allende and his Popular Unity coalition and is closely identified with the revolutionary politics of its era.[9] In 1973, a coup d'état, secretly supported by the United States, brought in power the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. During Pinochet's regime, How to Read Donald Duck was banned and subject to book burning; its authors were forced into exile.[9]

Outside Chile, How to Read Donald Duck became the most widely printed political text in Latin America for some time.[3] It was translated into English, French, German, Portuguese, Dutch, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Japanese, and Korean[10] and sold some 700.000 copies overall; by 1993, it had been reprinted 32 times by the publisher Siglo Veintiuno Editores.[11]

A hardcover edition with a new introduction by Dorfman was published by OR Books in the United States in October 2018.[12]


Thomas Andrae, who has written about 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 in animation. 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.[13]

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".[14]

See also


  1. ^ "How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic". Pluto Press. March 2019.
  2. ^ Lazare, Donald (1987). American Media and Mass Culture: Left Perspectives. University of California Press. pp. 16–17. ISBN 9780520044951.
  3. ^ a b Jason Jolley. Ariel Dorfman (1942–). The Literary Encyclopedia (2009)
  4. ^ "Kaalgeplukt en doorgekookt: Ariel Dorfman over Donald Duck". De Groene Amsterdammer. 1 July 2009.
  5. ^ Dorfman A., Mattelart A. Para leer al pato Donald p. 23. 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 p. 35. 1983.
  7. ^ Dorfman A., Mattelart A. Para leer al pato Donald p. 139. 1983.
  8. ^ Dorfman A., Mattelart A. Para leer al pato Donald p. 53. 1983.
  9. ^ a b Tomlinson (1991), p. 41–45
  10. ^ McClennen (2010), p. 245-279
  11. ^ Mendoza, Montaner, Llosa (2000), p. 199–201
  12. ^ "How to Read Donald Duck". OR Books. 10 May 2018. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  13. ^ Andrae, Thomas (2006), Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book: Unmasking the Myth of Modernity, Univ. Press of Mississippi, ISBN 1578068584
  14. ^ Kunzle, David. "The Parts That Got Left Out of the Donald Duck Book, or: How Karl Marx Prevailed Over Carl Barks". ImageTexT. ISSN 1549-6732. Retrieved 2022-06-03.


Further reading