Theodore Geisel: a poet, a cartoonist, an author, and a political activist. To children, this man is known dearly by his pseudonym, Dr. Seuss. Geisel, considered to be the greatest of all children’s writers, was an alumnus of the renowned Dartmouth College, and Lincoln College, Oxford. Through senseless language, wild settings, and nonsensical plots, Seuss emboldens all children to grow fond and enjoy reading. His wife, Helen Palmer-Seuss, said, “Ted doesn’t sit down and write for children. He writes to amuse himself. Luckily what amuses him also amuses them.” For this, many of the whimsical books Geisel wrote to entertain “children” contain political undertones to entertain himself. These political connotations are a statement to his more aesthetic audience. His most famous of these political works are Yertle the Turtle, The Sneetches, The Butter Battle Book, and the Lorax. By taking a closer look at the writings of Dr. Seuss, one recognizes that his books contain many themes not typically viewed as appropriate for children. These themes and subjects are his political outcries. During a period where seditious libel was punishable to extreme measures, Theodore Geisel’s children’s books were the most viable way to voice his and many others opinions on social and political issues of the time. Yertle the Turtle (1958) is a classic children’s story. It is also said to be representative of Hitler and the Nazi Regime during World War II. It is a story about a turtle king who is depicted as a dictator. Yertle the Turtle is the king of his pond. He decides that his small pond is not good enough for him. By stacking his subjects on top of each other, Yertle can then see more, and thus be king of more. He has no regard for the pain and suffering of those under his rule. He only cares about bettering his own situation. His pride becomes his downfall. He does not think anything should be higher or better than he is. Finally, his own subjects bring him down, and the Turtle King’s rule comes to an end. The end of the book leaves the reader with this sentiment: “And the turtles, of course... all the turtles are free. As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be” (Yertle the Turtle). Yertle the Turtle is a power hungry dictator who uses his power to oppress the masses. He is said to represent leaders like Stalin, Mussolini, Sadam Hussein, and Hitler. In the original sketch of the Turtle King, Yertle had a mustache to make him look like Adolph Hitler (Fields). This mustache may have been removed so as not to limit the reader to only think of Hitler, but all dictators. This book demonstrated the problems with Authoritarianism. Yertle is a ferocious dictator who has complete disregard for anyone other than himself. He becomes angry when the moon is higher than him. His subjects are afraid of him. They only obey out of fear. When looking through history, there have been several leaders like this. This characteristic was obvious in Hitler, and seen throughout history. Mack, a lowly turtle, burps and shakes the entire turtle tower. This simple turtle brings down the King and the entire selfish, totalitarian kingdom. Yertle becomes “King of the mud, because that is all he can see.”2 The end of the book states that all creatures should be free. This can be taken to also be speaking of the Jews in Germany, or any group that is or has been oppressed. By looking at Yertle the Turtle in this light, it is not hard to see the political undertones in this classic children’s story. Another story that can be viewed as dealing with World War II is The Sneetches (1961). The Sneetches is a story about racial tolerance and equality. Seuss himself said that it was based on his “…opposition to Anti-Semitism….” In this story, there are two types of Sneetches: the ones with stars on their bellies and those without. Those with the stars made those without feel inferior. They are teased and not included in any of the activities of the “better Sneetches” with...
Cited: Writings And Life Of Theodor Geisel. Ed. Thomas Fensch. Jefferson, N.C.:
McFarland And Company, 1997
Dr. Seuss. The Butter Battle Book. Random House. New York. 1984.
Dr. Seuss. The Lorax. Random House. New York. 1971.
Dr. Seuss. The Sneetches and Other Stories. Random House. New York. 1961.
Dr. Seuss. Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories. Random House. New York. 1958.
Fields, Suzanne. “Yertle the Turtle Goes to War”. Jewish World Review. March 31,
MacDonald, Ruth K. Dr. Seuss. Twayne Publishers. 1988.
The Butter Battle Book. (Dr. Seuss). National Review. 1984.
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