Dr. Seuss: The Marriage of Entertainment and Morality
Today’s topic is a follow up on last week’s wherein I wished for two things a) for grittier romance books and b) for those romance books that include gritty elements, to treat those elements seriously.
One of the responses that I heard was that readers like to be entertained and not issued to death. I don’t know when the two (entertainment and serious books) became mutually exclusive. The fact is I read issue books every night, except most of the time they are books I read to my four year old.
That’s right. Sneetchs. Nearly every children’s book out there is an issue book. My favorite ones are the Dr. Seuss stories. My four year old’s favorite Dr. Seuss is “Sneetches and Other Stories.” My DD always asks me if I will read “all stories” in the book. It contains four, all of which revolve around the issue of bias or prejudice and the danger of sameness. Prejudice comes at a cost. For the Sneetches, all their money was spent trying to maintain their illusory differences–the stars on their bellies.
The first story is the headliner: Sneetches. For those who haven’t read it or had at one time but since forgotten it, Sneetches tells the story of the Seuss creatures who have stars on their bellies and the creatures who have “none upon thars”. The Sneetches with the stars are snotty and do not let the plain belly Sneetches partake in any of the parties or picnics. Then a shyster comes along and says that he can put stars on the bellies of the plain belly Sneetches and once he does, the snotty Sneetches are disgusted. Of course, for a greater fee (ten dollars eaches), the shyster agrees to remove the stars of the snotty Sneetches. The climax is the scene where the plain belly Sneetches and the star belly Sneetches keep going into the star on and the star off machines
until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew
whether this one was that one or that one was this one
or which one was what one… or what one was who
In the end, the Sneetches grow “quite smart” and realize that a Sneetch is a Sneetch no matter the outward physical appearance.
The fourth story in Sneetches is a story of racial prejudice, in my opinion. It’s title, What Was I Scared Of? This is the story of the pale green pants with nobody inside them. The Seuss like character has never seen a pair of pale green pants without anyone inside them before. He is scared with every increasing encounter until one day he’s in Snidefield and reaches inside a bush and what should he find but the eery pale green pants. The story ends with the Suess like character confronting the fact that those pants were just as afraid of the strange Suess character as the little creature was afraid of the pants. The two weren’t so different at all, even though they looked odd to each other. There really wasn’t anything for either to be afraid and those fears fell away once they began to get to know each other.
Dr. Seuss tackled a number of issues in his stories. There is the issue of conservation and imperialism in The Lorax where Once-ler keeps “biggering and biggering and biggering” his factory, his loads, his trucks, just because he can. Once-ler comes upon a wonderful tree called the Truffula. He begins chopping them down at such a rate that it harms the ecosystem. The Lorax attempts to first speak for the Brown Barbaloots who are fed by the Truffula fruits. Because of the declining source of food, the increase in smog and pollution, the Brown Barbaloots have to leave and soon after the fish and birds follow until the paradise is totally destroyed with nothing but wasteland and empty buildings. The story ends with the Once-ler dropping down a seed to the boy below saying that that change might occur if someone plants the seed, tends it with care, and perhaps the Lorax and his friends will return.
Dr Seuss himself said that Cat in the Hat was about objecting to authority
“I’m subversive as hell,” Seuss once said. “The Cat in the Hat is a revolt against authority. … It’s revolutionary in that it goes as far as Kerensky, and then stops. It doesn’t go quite as far as Lenin.
He wrote an anti-war book called The Butter Battle Book wherein two rival factions take up an arms race and are poised to destroy each other totally other over the fact that one faction eats their bread butter side up and the other butter side down.
Entertainment and serious issues aren’t mutually exclusive. The fact is that it takes a talented author to make it seem less so. I know that there are talented authors in the romance genre who can take a moral, an issue, a serious topic, and make it fascinating for the reader. And I also believe that adult readers are entitled to same smart but serious topic-ed books as their children.