Dr. Seuss and World War II
Most people automatically think of children’s literature they hear the name “Dr. Seuss.” Perhaps
Horton Hears a Who or Cat and the Hat come to mind. What many do not realize was that Dr. Seuss had many of his works have the underlying theme of political awareness. Before writing books, he drew cartoons of a political nature, as well as some that identified with racism, Hitler and isolationism.
Not only did he want to entertain children and write for their enjoyment, but he also believed children are the future, and we need to enlighten their minds as much as possible.
Dr. Seuss, actual birth name , was born March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Mass.
His dad and granddad owned a brewery in Springfield and had bigger dreams for him than he expected.
Geisel graduated from Springfield’s Classical High School, then went on to attend Dartmouth college.
While there, he worked for the college magazine, the Jack O. Lantern and was a member of a social fraternity. While working for the magazine, he was so talented that he worked his way up to becoming the Editor in Chief. Unfortunately, he and his friends were caught consuming alcohol on school
premises which was against Dartmouth’s policy; he was forced to resign from all of his extracurricular school activities, including working for the magazine. Theodor did not want to quit working for the magazine, so he began working under the pseudonym of “Seuss.” He did this all through his time at Dartmouth and when he graduated, he added the name “Dr.” In front of his pen name, and the rest is history!
Theodor’s Dad had other plans for him; he wanted his son to be a college professor, so he went to Oxford University after Dartmouth. This move, however, was only to satisfy his father, as he became very bored with academia in England and decided touring Europe was more exciting than his studies.
His time at Oxford was not all for naught as he met a woman named Helen Palmer, whom he eventually married. Even after Geisel completed his European tour and came back to the States, he decided that working as a cartoonist was his true calling. He was right; many of his cartoons were published in name publications, such as the Saturday Evening Post and others. For over a decade,
Theodor Seuss Geisel worked freelance creating ad campaigns and publishing cartoons. At the beginning of World War II, he drew political cartoons on a weekly basis for the PM magazine. The PM
magazine was a leftist paper, particularly during the war, when Seuss worked for them. PM magazine was infamous for their propensity to tell the whole truth and spare no one’s feelings! Many of Seuss’
cartoons were labeled as offensive due to the way he drew people. Besides drawing, he also helped the United States Army by making training videos and this is how he became interested in animation. This fascination led him to illustrating children’s books. After he fine tuned his craft, he received a contract proposal from the Viking Press, then he went on to publish children’s books
Theodore Geisel, or “Dr. Seuss,” became a fully fledged author and was extremely successful.
He illustrated over 40 children’s books, and sold a total of over 200 million copies around the world.
His works were translated into over a dozen languages, while he had a positive impact on children’s lives, internationally. Many adults who were children in the 40’s claim Dr. Seuss taught them how to read, as well as develop an appreciated for art.
While Geisel wrote cartoons, this is not what he was most noted for; his biggest success was found with his children’s books. He loved writing for children’s and he even stated, “I’d rather write for kids. They are more appreciative. Adults are obsolete children and the hell with them.” Dr. Seuss
was named an American Icon because of how well he was able to get kids fascinated with his books.
He truly was a cultural phenomenon because he could write simply enough for children to learn and understand, yet sophisticated enough to contain a political undercurrent that adults understood. Dr.
Seuss was noted as “possibly the best-loved and certainly the best-selling children’s book writer of all time” by the New York Times.
While it is clearly understood that Seuss had political undertones to his stories, he had also been accused of being sexist. The reason being, there was an absence of women in all of his work, therefore, he was viewed as sexist against women. Throughout World War II, he never titled, or had any female as a lead character in any of his books. However, in 1995, he finally published a book called Daisy-Head
Mayzie. This book was based on a television show, in which Mayzie, the head female character, was strong and independent. It helped disprove the theory of sexism for all of Seuss’ critics.
One of Seuss’ most popular stories, the Lorax, was a reminder to human beings to keep the Earth pollution free. He wrote this because heavy industries such as oil and gas, were more interested in becoming competitive and powerful, than keeping our planet clean. All they cared about was making the largest profits and beating out other companies for size, greed and becoming the greatest conglomerates across the world. The Lorax, represented the importance of our environment. It is simple to see how relevant this book is within the political context of industrialization. Most major companies do not regard the environment when it comes to getting ahead; they are willing to do anything, including mowing down thousands of acres of forest and trees to suit their interests and meet their bottom line. The Lorax brought to light that many industries do not consider the whole perspective of what the environmental outcomes, as long as they get what they want financially.
One of the most prominent books during the wartime era was Yertle the Turtle. If you read carefully, there are many interesting parallels between Adolf Hitler and his Reich during World War II.
Those who research this particular book will find warnings for the general public about dictatorships and greed. The very beginning of the story explains Yertle is the king of the pond and he kept everyone around the pond in line. All were happy, the pond was very clean and it seemed to be a Utopian place for its residents. However, Yertle the Turtle wanted something more; he wanted his pond to be bigger and better than any other pond. In Yertle’s mind, he was the great ruler over what he saw (which was only his pond) however, he did not see everything. Just as Hitler saw Germany, but really did have a full grasp on what it takes to rule the world. In the book, Yertle, built a tower of turtle, of which he was on top so that he could be the ruler of everything; only the things he could see, of course. He continued to build higher and higher, yet never seemed content. He wanted more, but the turtles beneath him were tired, particularly those toward the bottom. However, Yertle was relentless and would never release them, because the could see the moon and wanted to be higher than the moon, and ordered more turtles underneath him. The main point of this story is, the structure of the building is only as strong as the foundation, and the foundation became weak. The turtle at the very bottom wanted to go and became weary of being told what to do at all times. He said “I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down on the bottom we, too, should have rights!” He rebelled and left so the stack of turtles all came falling to the ground. At this point the pond had no ruler and everyone became free to move about as they wanted.
Just as in Europe, those under Hitler’s rule became tired of being servants and attempted to escape the tyranny. While there were but only a few who were loyal to Hitler to the very end, almost everyone else became recalcitrant and left. There are many comparisons that can be drawn from the simple story of Yertle the Turtle because Hitler thought he had control over all of his subjects.
However, those at the very bottom ended up collapsing, and causing the tower of power to crash and burn. It is the same concept. With a dictatorship such as that of Yertle the Turtle, where one person rules the roost, there is inherently the risk of someone at the bottom who cannot, or will not, be bullied into submission. Again, the leadership is only as strong as the foundation.
When one really looks deep into the work of Dr. Seuss, they can see not only a fight against segregation, racism and political divide, but the way it was written is such a way that anyone can comprehend. Also, the wariness of industrial America and how their greed will affect everyone in the long-term. Theodor Seuss Geisel had many cartoons back in the 1940’s that many in the general public found highly offensive. However, many people also saw them for what they were; a tool for enlightenment of human kind. Many of Dr. Seuss’ written and illustrated books made over 65 years ago, continue to sell today. They not only sell in print form, but as movies, as well. As with any successful author, everyone will have varying opinions on Dr. Seuss’ work. However, most agree that he truly was an American Icon and his writings impacted people in many ways. His career was a success and he should have no regrets about how powerful his work was for people across the globe.
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