TODAY IS THE BIRTHDAY OF THEODORE SEUSS GEISEL, or, as literally everyone knows him, Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss’s children’s books are easily the best out there, thanks to their nonsense rhymes and distinctive and strange drawings. The very first book I ever personally read was his ABC’s book, which incidentally means that I read “Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz” before I read the word “because.”
One of the lesser-known sides of Dr. Seuss is that he was extremely political during his life. It’s worth noting this, as we celebrate Seuss’s birthday, because we are in the middle of some very nasty, toxic politics in our country, and because Dr. Seuss would undoubtedly have had opinions about these politics. And while it’s impossible to truly know what was happening in the mind of a man who died a little under 25 years ago, we can take a pretty good guess based off of some of his books.
Dr. Seuss on the environment.
Seuss’s best known political work (and his own personal favorite of the books he wrote) is The Lorax, an environmentalist story about a furry critter that “speaks for the trees, for the trees have no tongues,” while a entrepreneurial businessthing called the Once-ler chops the trees down to make some ridiculous product that he can sell for a profit.
The Once-ler goes on to cut down all of the trees, causing the Lorax to sadly disappear, leaving behind the message:
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
Dr. Seuss on racial discrimination.
Seuss’s short story “The Sneetches” starts with these lines:
Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches-
Had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches-Had none upon thars.
Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.
The story goes on to tell about how the Star-Belly Sneetches discriminated against the Plain-Belly Sneetches until a cynical businessperson pits the two groups against each other for his own personal gain, and how, in the end, the ridiculously small difference between the two groups caused a whole lot more trouble than it was worth.
Dr. Seuss on helping people in other countries.
In Seuss’s famous book, Horton Hears a Who, Horton, an elephant, protects the many little residents on a tiny community living on top of a clover. Even though the other animals think nothing of the tiny things (called “Who’s”), and callously attempt to destroy the clover they live on, Horton protects them, insisting, “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”
Dr. Seuss on authoritarianism.
In Yertle the Turtle, Seuss told the story of a turtle (named Yertle) who declared himself king and then stood on the backs of other turtles so he could see as much as humanly (or rather, turtle-ly) possible.
“Hooray!” shouted Yertle. “I’m the king of the trees!
I’m king of the birds! And I’m king of the bees!
I’m king of the butterflies! King of the air!
Ah, me! What a throne! What a wonderful chair!
I’m Yertle the Turtle! Oh, marvelous me!
For I am the ruler of all that I see!”
He demanded more and more turtles to stand on until the turtle at the bottom burped, causing Yertle to tumble back down.
Seuss wrote this book in reference to Adolf Hitler, but given the rise of American authoritarianism and the size of Yertle’s ego, it’s not hard to draw a clear line between Yertle and some of our politicians today.