Dr. Seuss' Political Philosophy
The Lesser Known Side of Dr. Seuss
Most people in the United States grow up listening to Dr. Seuss books. The staccato beats and recognizable rhymes make his books stand out when they are read aloud. Children and adults alike are drawn in to the stories while they simultaneously soak in the details of Seuss' unique cartoon style. The playful rhymes filled with simple life lessons are fun for families to share.
When you dig a little deeper into the meaning of some of Dr. Seuss' work, you will find that there is a whole different level of expression that is hidden upon first glance. Theodor Seuss Geisel was extremely politically opinionated and was not shy about letting the world know what he thought about politics of the early 1940s.
Before dedicating his life to writing children's books, Dr. Seuss spent much of his time drawing political cartoons for a left-wing newspaper, PM. He was their chief editorial cartoonist from 1941 to 1943.
He continued to share his political messages after leaving PM. Rather than drawing political cartoons, however, his philosophies came out in his children's books.
The Cat in the Hat - Animated
The Cat in the Hat
The Virtues of Autonomy, Efficiency, and Skepticism
Published in 1954.
Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat in direct response to a Life Magazine article that claimed children's boredom with books was increasing widespread literacy. The article pointed directly at primers such as Dick and Jane, which children did not pick up to read over and over again.
The Cat in the Hat is not only a book that children repeatedly read, it is also Dr. Seuss' way of saying to youth that it was okay to take risks and rebel against authority. General subversion was an underlying theme of the book.
Horton Hears a Who! - Animated
Horton Hears a Who!
The Inherent Ethical Issues of Isolationism
Published in 1958.
One of Dr. Seuss' most successful books, Horton Hears a Who! is packed with political and social message with and emphasis on those who are powerless. The oft-quoted line, "A person is a person, no matter how small," says it all. Seuss obviously believed that everyone deserved a voice.
Seuss believed strongly that the United States should straighten things out in light of Communism and conformity. Throughout the story, Horton stands out from all the other animals in the jungle. He refuses, however, to conform. The parallels in the book to fascism in parts of the world during that time are not cultural or political accidents.
Horton Hears a Who! also contains the theme of democratization in post-World War II Japan. It was important for Americans to listen to the Japanese stories and respect their people during the occupation of their island during this time period.
Some analysts have gone as far as believing that Dr. Seuss was using Horton to represent Big Government and how it tends to look over but control the little guys. Horton is responsible for the well-being of the Who community. Of all his books, Geisel spoke the least about his intentions behind Horton Hears a Who! beyond the obvious.
Dr. Seuss on Isolationism
Yertle the Turtle - Animated
Yertle the Turtle
Why Hitler is Dangerous
Published in 1958.
There is no denying that Yertle the Turtle was created to represent Hitler. Even though Yertle was already king of the pond, he wanted more. He makes the other turtles stack themselves up high so he can climb up to the top and get a better view.
All was fine and dandy until Mack, the turtle on the bottom, asked for a break. The dictator denied the request and continues to stack up the turtles. His quest for being above the rest bit Yertle in the rear in the end. Just as he was ready to stack more turtles on, Mack burped. Of course, the burp sent all the turtles tumbling down, including Yertle.
In the end, Yertle's thirst for power, much like Hitler's, brought his demise and set the rest of the turtles free. It is this freedom, ironically, that caused some school libraries from pulling this book of its shelves. Apparently the line -- I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we, too, should have rights -- was too blunt.
It is interesting to note that when the book was sent in for publication at Random House, there was more talk and discussion over the debut of a burp in children's literature than over the fact that Dr. Seuss made clear Yertle the Turtle was Adolf Hitler.
Dr. Seuss on Adolf Hitler
Sneetches - Animated
Published in 1961.
Racial, religious, and class discrimination ring loud in The Sneetches where there are star- and plain-bellied Sneetches living together. The star-bellied Sneetches look down on their plain counterparts and don't consider them to be in the same class as them.
One day, con-man, McBean comes to town and starts to sell stars to the plain-bellied Sneetches for $3.00, turning them into star-bellied Sneetches in no time. This angered the original star-bellied Sneetches. McBean comes to the rescue for the opposition this time, selling star-removal services for $10.00 a pop. The originals were extremely excited as they would be able to distinguish their superiority once again.
The addition and removal of stars cause mass confusion of which Sneetch was original and which was not.
...until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew
Whether this one was that one or that one was this one
Or which one was what one or what one was who...
After both sides exhaust their funds and McBean skips town, the two Sneetch groups come to the conclusion that neither was better than the other.
With the events going on at the time of the publication of The Sneetches, some would argue that Dr. Seuss intentionally used the star symbol, inspired by the Star of David. It was clear that Geisel included many subliminal messages representing his opposition to anti-Semitism in this book.
Dr. Seuss on Racism
The Lorax - Animated
The Importance of Environmental Awareness in Industrialized Society
Published in the 1971.
Dr. Seuss admitted that The Lorax was "straight propaganda, a polemic against pollution." The story outlines the author's opinion about environmentalism, speaking out against humans who were destroying nature. He brings out the conflict between the consumption of natural resources in the production of man-made, materialistic goods.
The Once-ler in the story represents consumerism as he cuts down all the Truffula trees to make thneeds, resulting in massive deforestation and polluted waterways. In the end, after he realizes what he has done, the Once-ler does show hints of remorse. It becomes apparent what corporate greed and excessive consumerism can do to the environment.
Dr. Seuss on Environmental Awareness and Industrialization
The Butter Battle Book - Animated
The Butter Battle Book
The Tragic Futility of the Nuclear Arms Race!
Published in 1984.
Once pulled from library shelves for its representation of the nuclear arms race and the Cold War, The Butter Battle Book is arguably Dr. Seuss' most controversial work.
In The Butter Battle Book, the Yooks and the Zooks are conflicted over which side the bread should be buttered -- the top or the underside. Their initially small disagreement balloons into an arms race when each side tries to outdo the other with their weaponry against each other.
The story concludes with the Yooks and Zooks standing off against each other on top a wall, an allusion to the one in Berlin. There is no clear winner of the race, however, each side was poised to drop their "ultimate bombs" on the other. Dr. Seuss leaves it up to the reader to imagine the results of this arms race.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! - Narrated and Drawn
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
The Psychological Implications of Holiday-Motivated Materialism
Published in 1957.
At the superficial or basic level, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is a feel-good story about someone who steals presents and then returns them when he feels bad about his actions. His victims were quick to forgive his actions during this special time of year and accepted him once again with open arms.
At a deeper level, Dr. Seuss forces us to look beyond materialist gift-giving during the holidays and dwell in the spirit of the Christmas holidays. Rather than seeing Christmas as a consumeristic holiday, he reminds his readers that there is more to it and to stop and appreciate its initial intent.
Green Eggs and Ham - Animated
Green Eggs and Ham
How Fear of the Unknown Hinders The Development of Informed Opinions
Published in 1960.
In Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss addresses risk-taking and open-mindedness at one level and political and economic issues at another.
Politically, Sam can be seen as Uncle Sam or Big Brother and the BFT as the nation's people. Despite the BFT's effort to resist Sam, he finally gave in and realized that it was best to just accept things as they are.
Sam can also be used to symbolize Big Business where they control consumerism. Big Business tells us what consumers -- BFT -- should buy given their choices.
It All Boils Down To...
...the fact that Dr. Seuss was a master at entertaining people of all ages. His catchy rhythms and rhymes attracted young children who listened to the stories over and over again, never tiring of them. At the same time, a more mature audience could interact with Geisel in a political or social manner. It takes a genius to be able to appease such a wide audience with cartoon-filled poems.