Jeremy BlackEnglish 1302 The Political and Social Influence of Dr. Seuss There once was a man named Geisel, whose poems made us all the wiser. He likedMother Goose and changed it to Seuss, a Doctor of highest repute. A little known fact, too boldto retract; Yertle the turtle was Hitler. Theodor Geisel was a “complex individual, one whoexperienced great joy in life and his art and deep lows filled with self-doubt and discomfort inhaving to deal with those outside his close circle of friends” [Kaplan] and one of the most wellknown children’s authors of all time. Most know Dr. Seuss as the writer of children’s bookswhich have entertained people around the world from ages four through one hundred and four.These stories, as many acknowledge, have powerful themes. Throughout his works, “Geisel (Dr.Seuss) includes valuable lessons and morals that relate to real-life” [Bree]. The more obviousones range from not judging something until after one has tried it(Green Eggs and Ham), toenvironmental messages(The Lorax), and even messages against racism(The Sneetches).However, the stories mean so much more if the era in which they were written is looked at. Forexample, The Butter Battle Book, The Sneetches, and Yertle the Turtle were written andpublished during different eras in our history and contain very powerful messages pertaining tothem. “I couldn’t draw Hitler as a turtle...So I drew him as King of the Pond. He wanted to beking as far as he could see. So he kept piling them up. He conquered Central Europe and France,
and there it was” [Geisel]. Yertle the Turtle draws a direct reference to Hitler, while making aclear statement about tyrannical dictatorship all the while. Yertle ruled everything that he sawaround his pond, and the turtles were content having “everything turtles might need” [Seuss].Having decided that his kingdom was too small the turtle king began an aggressive expansionsimilar to Hitler. Of course his methods were not exactly the same, but they did have a similareffect on his subjects. “He ordered nine turtles to swim to his stone and, using these turtles, hebuilt a new throne. He made each turtle stand on another one’s back” [Seuss]. He threatened the turtles with his position of power, just as Hitler did through means ofextortion and fear, stacking higher and higher while causing further oppression and expandinghis kingdom at the same time. Neither Hitler or Yertle cared about the pain they had caused solong as they were able to further their own agenda. “Yertle secures himself a position of ultimatepower and, through intimidation and at the expense of the turtle’s physical well being, he riseshigher and higher on their backs.” [Mack] Throughout Mack, the turtle on the bottom, begins tocomplain about aches and back pains, but is completely ignored by Yertle, who is too busygaining more power to be concerned with the ills of his people. Their goals of world dominationultimately beget their downfall. Even at his highest, where he could see as far as his eyes wouldallow, he was still “offended that the moon was higher than he" [Fensch]. The story ends with“All the turtles are free, as turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be,” [Seuss] lending towardsone of the continuous themes that Seuss uses in his works. “When the Star Belly children went out to play ball, could a Plain Belly child get in thegame...? Not at all” [Seuss]. There are two groups of Sneetches, exactly the same in every way.Well, that is, aside from the little green star on the bellies of some. This is the cause of thesegregation between the factions, the Plain Bellies being treated as lesser creatures, sneered at,
and left out by the others. Similarly, “the only thing separating people is the color of their skin,”[Greene] yet this has been the cause of wars, murders, and thousands of years of racism acrossthe world. The fact that this book was published during the Civil Rights Era is no coincidence,the book took the matters of racism and set them very plainly, “the stars werent so big; theywere really quite small. You would think such a thing wouldnt matter at all,” [Seuss] as itdoesn’t make sense that the shade of one’s skin could lead to the issues they had in the past. Toalleviate the problems Sylvester McMonkey McBean begins printing stars on the bellies of theunfortunate, starless Sneetches: for a nominal price of course. With that dividing factor removed they try to create another, now getting the starremoved, for yet another small fee. Another stab at the nature of man, always dividing intogroups, creating ways to tell one another apart: social status, income, race. All of those arefactors that should not matter in the grand scheme of humanity, but they are harped uponconstantly, and will, ultimately, end with no winner except those that profit from the conflicts.“Off again, on again, in again, out again...still paying money, still running through...every minuteor two.” [Seuss] Seuss even states that the book was written and based on "his opposition to anti-Semitism” [Beardsley]. They continued to fight over superiority based on miniscule differencesuntil “every last cent of their money was spent.” [Seuss] Leaving them penniless and McBeanconsidered them fools, believing that they would never learn that the differences weremeaningless; however, the Sneetches did finally understand that they were actually equalsdespite the skin deep separations. “That day, they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches, and nokind of Sneetch is the BEST on the beaches” [Seuss]. Among other heavy socially and politically themed books written by Dr. Seuss there isThe Butter Battle Book. “It is a satire on war and Dr. Seuss’ most blatant political statement”
[Knight]. The book covers an arms race between the Zooks, red; and Yooks, blue. The colorsobviously represent the primary opposing factions of the Cold War: red being the Russians whileblue represents the Americans. The two societies have used scare tactics, without actually firinga weapon, throughout their history. The actual reason behind the war is simply which side of thetoast to butter while eating, the top or bottom. This draws a picture that the Cold War’s reasonmight be a cultural misunderstanding that was sent spiraling out of control by the arms race, oneside needing to build a better weapon to stand up to the other in case of an attack, and ultimatelyculminating in the “Boomeroo" which represents nuclear weapons. This new development meantneither side would be willing to actually attack, lest they both be destroyed. “The grandson callsout “Who’s going to drop it? Will you…? Or will he…?” The grandfather can only answer “Wewill see” [Seuss]! This all leads to a suggestion that if the “United States had stoppedmodernizing their own weapons, the Russians would have done similarly, and the conflict woulddie down” [Knight]. There are more messages within Theodore Seuss Geisel’s work than the ones listed here.Nearly every book written by Dr. Seuss has a powerful message to be delivered, be it as simpleas treating others kindly or as subjective as his opinions on the arms race during the Cold War.He created stories that have taught and entertained the young and old alike while imparting a bitof wisdom with each reading. Dr. Seuss will remain a part of literature for all of the foreseeablefuture, and hopefully readers will continue to look past the obvious and into the more intricateworld of social and political messages that he has sewn magnificently into his work.
BibliographyMack. "The Essay." Weblog post. Yertle the Turtle: A Study. 17 Jan 2011. Web. 09 Aug. 2011.Knight, Rachel. Dr. Seuss’s Hidden Political Agenda. Rep. Web. 07 Aug. 2011.Greene, William. "Racism and the Sneetches." Socialhearts. 11 Dec. 2008. Web. 09 Aug.2011Seuss, Dr. Yertle the Turtle: and Other Stories. New York: Random House, 1979. Print.Seuss, Dr. The Butter Battle Book. Toronto: Random House, 1984. Print.Seuss, Dr. The Sneetches. S.l.: Random, 1989. Print.Beardsley, Nancy. Arts & Culture On 100th Anniversary, Childrens Author Dr. Seuss Still Amuses. 3 Mar. 2004. Web. 09 Aug. 2011Gourney, Cynthia. "Dr. Seuss at 75: Grinch, Cat in Hat, Wocket and Generations of Kids in His Pocket." The Washington Post (1975). Print.Fensch, Thomas. The Man Who Was Dr. Seuss: the Life and Work of Theodor Geisel. The Woodlands, TX: New Century, 2000. Print.Kaplan, Melissa. "Theodor Seuss Geisel: Author Study." 1995. Web. 10 Aug. 2011.