Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known to generations of readers all over the world as “Dr. Seuss,” is the American author of many popular children’s books. Dr. Seuss’ “deft combination of easy words, swift rhymes and batty nonsense” (Horn 69) has convinced many children that reading does not have to be a boring chore, but instead can be fun and entertaining. Amidst these wacky drawings of zany characters spouting off crazy rhetoric, there is much hidden symbolism. Many of Dr. Seuss’ works contain political, social, and moral messages.
Political messages in Dr. Seuss’ works include war, economic and environmental themes. Two of Dr. Seuss’ later works, The Butter Battle Book and The Lorax, “take strong stands on the dangers of indifference to world affairs.” (Horn 70) In The Butter Battle Book, Seuss takes nuclear war as his theme. Two groups of animals live on either side of a stone wall. One side eats their bread butter side up, while the other side eats their bread butter side down. Because of each group’s odd ways, neither side trusts the other. Each side sets up a border patrol with mild protection. Over the course of the book, the weapons get more complicated and powerful until each side invents “the bitsy big-boy boomeroo,” a very powerful bomb. Each side is ready to destroy the other when the books ends. These groups could represent the nuclear opponents of the time, mainly the United States and Russia. “In this book Dr. Seuss turns didactic and calls up many moral arguments adults make against nuclear proliferation.” (Lystad 1) This book “ends without resolution of the issues” (Lystad 2) and leaves it up to the reader to decide his or her own beliefs on nuclear war.
Political issues arise again in Green Eggs and Ham. In this book “Sam-I-Am’s persistence convinces a friend to try an unusual – but tasty – dish.” (Horn 67) This confrontation between Sam-I-Am and his friend is “so obviously a parable about the struggle between capitalist and socialist ideologies.” (Atkinson 132) It can be said that Sam-I-Am represents the capitalist United States trying to convince communist countries to try the new, strange and unusual dish of green eggs and ham, which represents capitalism.
Political messages can also be found in The Lorax, in which “the threat is environmental.” (Lystad 4) In this book the Once-ler, an evil character, comes to the beautiful land where the Truffula trees grow. The Once-Ler sees the trees only as a commercial profit and chops them down to make products. The Lorax, the funny brown hero who wants to save the trees and animals, preaches against this, but the Once-Ler does not listen. He builds a giant factory which fills the air with smog. No one listens until all of the animals and fish die from pollution and all of the trees are chopped down. In the end, the Once-Ler realizes his mistakes and gives the last remaining Truffula seed to a boy. He tells the boy that the Lorax was right after all, and that if the boy plants the seed and treats it with care, there is hope for the environment and for those who live in it.
A social issue Dr. Seuss deals with is fascism. In many of his books characters “extol friendship between differing racial, ethnic and national groups.” (Lystad 4) Dr. Seuss’ book The Sneetches is a book about a fanciful group of creatures, the Sneetches. These Sneetches are of two kinds, ” the plain-bellied and the star-bellied, the latter considering themselves superior to the former.” (Morite 70) Because of this seemingly trivial physical difference, these two groups do not get along. Because they are looked down upon, the starless Sneetches stars hire someone to place stars upon their bellies. As a result, the other group of Sneetches has their stars removed. Because of all the confusion, none of the Sneetches know who belongs to what group. By the end of the story these two groups come to the conclusion that, “stars or no stars, they are all the same kind of Sneetch deep down, and one is not better than the other.” (Reading Today 7)
Even though Dr. Seuss wrote The Sneetches in 1953, its social message promoting ethnic tolerance is being used today. It has been said that, “this book will be used to heal a war-torn country.” (Reading Today 7) Whether or not it may heal remains to be seen, but its value in this case can hardly be disputed. The Sneetches, written by Dr. Seuss in 1953, “will be translated by NATO into Serbo-Croatian and distributed to 500,000 children in Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of an information campaign to help encourage ethnic tolerance.” (Reading Today 7) The idea to do this came from “a NATO soldier who read the book as a child and remembered the message of tolerance in The Sneetches.” (Reading Today 7) Dr. Seuss’ characters “now have the opportunity to teach their lessons of tolerance in a far more important theater of operations: the minds of the children of Bosnia.” (Reading Today 7) This use of The Sneetches shows how the social messages inherent in his work not only supersede boundaries of time, but also of nationality and ethnicity.
Moral responsibility “is a theme Geisel has warmed to over the years in the face of environmental deterioration and threat of nuclear attack.” Several of Dr. Seuss’ books impart a message of responsibility for others in society. (Horn 70) In Thidwick The Big-Hearted Moose, moral responsibility arises again as a central idea. Thidwick allows the other animals to live in his horns even though it is quite inconvenient and very uncomfortable for him. Thidwick looses these freeloaders when his horns shed. The animals, caught in the horns, are bagged and stuffed by hunters. Thidwick, on the other hand, swims to safety. This story implies the message that immoral people might gain temporarily, but moral people will win in the end. In Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton the kind-hearted elephant agrees to help a lazy bird by sitting on her egg while she flies off for a vacation. The mother bird decides to never come back. Horton suffers through many problems such as bad weather and being ridiculed by the other animals. In the end, Horton is rewarded when the egg hatches into an elephant-bird. All of these works “suggest to the reader that individual can and should be responsible for the welfare of others.” (Horn 70)
Within the playful artwork and imaginative language, Dr. Seuss’ children’s books convey ideas about nuclear proliferation, environmental hazards, economics, fascism, and morality. Despite the fact that some of these works are more than fifty years old, the important messages within them still hold true today. Whether or not the parents who buy the books of Dr. Seuss realize the value placed in them, their value as teaching tools for children cannot be disputed. In all, the messages given by Dr. Seuss through his works could be the very essence of this writers popularity. The messages are basic and widely applicable, ensuring that his work can be useful to and enjoyed by all.