Op-ed: Oh the thinks they will think!

Editor's Note: Dr. Seuss wrote fun and whimsical books for children, and this essay isn't too serious either.

Two years ago, I found myself standing on stage, decorated in colorful blue feathers and singing cheerful songs on top of an enormous bird’s nest in a production of Seussical: The Musical.  I sang songs that encapsulated my character’s distaste for her appearance and her lack of self-esteem. I played the small and quirky Gertrude McFuzz , a character who spent the majority of her stage time lamenting her unattractive looks by comparing herself to Mayzie, a bird with glorious and flowing feathers.  I envied Mayzie’s beautiful feathers.  Children loved Gertrude and her spunky yet awkward outlook on life. In my title song, “The One Feathered Tail of Miss Gertrude McFuzz,” I sought guidance from the Cat in the Hat about how I could improve my appearance to attract the attention of a boy.  An elephant, actually.  I innocently gulped down an excessive number of pills from the “Pillbury bush,” and my tail instantly became long and luscious.  My self-esteem inflated, I pranced and sang about how my life had improved.  By the third night of my performance as Gertrude; however, I began to think of the lesson I was teaching children in the audience as I celebrated my luxurious tail. Beauty wins. Beauty makes Gertrude happy.  I began to think more about Dr. Seuss and the lessons he taught in his books. And I began to think perhaps Seuss was more than just colorful characters, silly names, and made-up words. 

Seuss encourages succumbing to peer pressure and manipulation. The stoutly self-reliant Sneetch in Green Eggs and Ham submits to peer pressure at the hands of Sam I Am, the character who cajoles and then bullies the Sneetch. Whether in a box or with a fox, the Sneetch bravely maintains his individualism amongst peers by refusing the green eggs and ham.  The Sneetch struggles to uphold his Emersonian ideal of remaining an individual “who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude” (Emerson).  However, as Sam I Am continues to pressure him to eat them with a goat, on a boat, in the rain, or on a train, the Sneetch weakens.  Then the Sneetch falls.  The Sneetch’s downfall, ingesting the green eggs and ham, sends a message to children: give in.  Go with the crowd.  Try strange and oddly-colored substances.

Seuss’ Red Fish Two Fish Three Fish Blue Fish endorses the racism of the early 1950’s.  Seuss presents red, blue, and black fish and identifies them as “sad” or “glad” or “very, very bad.”  Seuss does not promote ignoring color; instead, he points the reader to the previous generation for views on race by stating, “Go ask your dad” to determine which ones are “bad.”  Seuss wrote this book in 1960, so encouraging children to look to previous generations about race does not point to a healthy view on race relations.

Seuss doesn't stop with just racism in Red Fish Two Fish Three Fish Blue Fish.  He continues by supporting fat-shaming.  And he pokes fun at birth defects.  Seuss divides the world into two shallow classes; he declares that “Some are thin” and “some are fat.”  He then engages in fat-shaming by declaring the fat ones need to accessorize by wearing a “yellow hat” but the thin ones do not need cover.  Seuss also jokingly references congenital birth defects by asking “How many fingers do I see?” and then playfully answering his own question with “One, two, three, four,/Five, six, seven,/Eight, nine, ten. He has eleven!” He further ponders these defects by asking, “Where do they come from? I can’t say.” Instead of encouraging acceptance among children, Seuss encourages division.

The Grinch, in Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, simply blows “Who! Who!” on his trumpet as he descends from Mount Crumpet to gain forgiveness for heinous crimes.  Despite his cruelty to animals, invasion of homes, and theft of Christmas presents, he escapes accountability by simply carving the “roast beast” for the Who’s.  The Grinch commits serious crimes but suffers no serious consequences. Parents raise children to behave in responsible ways by teaching them right and wrong; parents praise good behavior and punish poor behavior.  Punishment helps children associate poor behaviors with unpleasant consequences so that, as adults, they behave well.  If parents allow poor behavior to continue with minimal punishment, they have raised their own little Grinches.  Seuss shows children that even the most grievous of actions do not require punishment if they offer a cursory apology.

So my time fawning over a luxurious tail as Gertrude McFuzz masked a darker side of Seuss. His clever rhymes convey a message to children that disrupts healthy character development. From the fall of the Sneetch to the elevation of the Grinch, Seuss authors a sinister world of racism, fat-shaming, and crime without punishment.  As Gertrude, I joined in the concluding reprise of “Oh the Thinks You Can Think” and sang the lines, “Think of something horrible and hairy! Something sinister and scary that you never dared to think of before!” I never dared to view a children’s book author as menacing and cruel, but once I discovered the meaning beneath the lyrics I sang to children, I realized the blame should not be placed on me, the interpreter. All of the blame belonged to the mastermind behind the truly wicked stories. 

Editor's Note: To reiterate, this is satirical.

--Lauren Bliss, Special to LSNews.org

Edited: BP

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