One of the things I enjoy doing, whenever I venture out of my cave, is to observe people. Not in a creepy, staring kind of way, but discretely, to satisfy my writerly curiosity about people. While those around me think that I am engaged in reading a book on my iPad, I am occasionally taking sneak peeks, or catching snatches of their conversations. People are fascinating, and one can learn many things just by being still and observing. And what have I learned lately?
That Dr. Seuss was kind of a genius.
I know. Most people probably don’t look at his legacy of cute, silly rhyming stories for children and think of the word genius. And in fact, perhaps I am overusing the term. However, it became apparent that Dr. Seuss, like myself, and like most fiction writers, was an avid people watcher. And that somehow, he managed to capture perfectly some of the most common archetypes and struggles of humanity through his humorous and whimsical rhymes. Perhaps the language he used lacked the sophisticated eloquence of Shakespeare, Frost, or Whitman, but he was, in my opinion, no less of a talented poet.
Did you know that Dr. Seuss was once a political cartoonist?
When children listen to Dr. Seuss stories, they may be entertained by his clever rhymes and fantastic characters, like the silly but loveable Cat-in-the-Hat, or the persuasive Sam-I-Am and his strange green eggs and ham. However, if you were to take a closer look at the themes of his stories, you may find some strong political statements and surprising universal truths revealed.
For example, in the famous book, The Lorax, Seuss uses a humorous children’s story as a barely-disguised political platform against corporate greed, consumerism, and destruction of the environment. In The Sneetches, one of my all-time favorite works of children’s literature, Seuss spoke out against racism, prejudice, and anti-semitism. The Zax, a very short story about two very stubborn creatures who both refuse to budge, and so neither one goes anywhere. Sound a little like Republicans and Democrats, perhaps? And then there is the well-known Yertle the Turtle, another of my personal favorites. Hitler – oops, I mean Yertle is a turtle who lives in a small pond, but gets the idea that he is king of all he can see. He begins to climb upon the backs of the other turtles in the pond, despite their misery, in order to expand his rule. He takes his superiority complex a little too far, however, and down he falls, as all megalomaniacs eventually must.
“I’m Yertle the Turtle! Oh marvelous me! For I am ruler of all I can see!”