Seuss Marx the Spot

Posted: May 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

When we think of Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, we think of his whimsical children’s books. In his life time, he has written and illustrated 44 books that have encouraged generations of children to love to read and expand their vocabulary (Radical p3). However, what many don’t know about Dr. Seuss and his books is that most of them were inspired by his political ideals that developed during his years as a political cartoonist for the PM, a New York publication (Gustafson p1). He started cartooning in after graduating from Darthmouth College in 1925 (Radical p3). He got his start writing and illustrating humorous articles to different magazines such as Judge, the Saturday Evening Post and others. His career as a children’s author didn’t start until 1937 when he wrote And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street (Radical p4). When he transitioned from writing to adults to children, his messages stayed the same. He wrote about what he believed in, despite who his audience was. He went on to weave his political ideals into more than 40 of his children’s books (Gustafson p1).

Dr. Seuss was much more than a cartoonist. He was a moralist and political progressive whose views suffuse his stories. “His books consistently reveal his sympathy with the weak and the powerless and his fury against tyrants and oppressors. Many Dr. Seuss books are about the misuse of power…His books teach children to think about how to deal with an unfair world” (Radical p3). Dr. Seuss wanted to create books that were both fun and educational in more ways than one, and they were. Dr. Seuss worked with children, and treated them as equals. He never bossed them around and instructed them what to do when faced with injustice. His approach was more enlightening in that his stories worked their way to prompt the reader to think about how they should handle civil conflicts. Dr. Seuss gives the reader the power to determine how the story should end, because only they can create change. While generations of activists acclaim their current political views are not directly linked to their early exposure to Dr. Seuss, they also do not doubt that his messages played a role in sensitizing them to abuses of power (Radical p3).

When analyzing literature, it is important to use the traditional historical approach. This methodology declares that critics should place a work in its historical setting, paying attention to the author’s life, the time period in which the work was written and the cultural milieu of both the text and the author” (Bressler p169). By viewing Dr. Seuss and his books in this perspective it is easy to see the massive impact of Marxism on both the author and his stories. Dr. Seuss wrote during a time of extreme stress politically, socially, economically and culturally. From the 30’s in to the 90’s Seuss devoted his career as both a writer and an illustrator to creating change needed to better humanity, a change that is vital to all Marxists. Seuss drew cartoons that used bitter humor to attack those that abused power.

Seuss worked to sharpen his political messages, cartoons and satire while working for PM in the 40’s, a paper he enjoyed working for very much because it “was against people who pushed other people around” (Radical p4). Dr. Seuss devoted sections of the paper to unions, women’s issues and civil rights. He was one of the few editorial voices to go against the US military racial segregation, where he used his cartoons to challenge racism, union-busting and corporate greed that divided the country and hurt the war effort (Radical p4).  Dr. Seuss was a Marxist with drive. He devoted his time and life to educating and advocating for society, willing to write in every form in order to create the change needed for society to flourish. His artistry best served society and promoted social betterment by creating literature where art and societal concerns intersect (Bressler p170).  His art was a gift to society.

Various Hidden Political Messages:

The Book: 

The book The Sneetches (1961) is an excellent example of the importance of celebrating diversity. When reading the book, it’s hard to miss its contained political messages. Written prior to World War II the text is often interpreted as an opposition to anti-Semitism. “The story is an obvious allegory about racism and discrimination, clearly inspired by the yellow stars that the Nazis required Jews to wear on their clothing to identify them as Jewish” (Radical).  The Sneetches is Seuss forming a relationship between what was the present cultural ideology. “Literature and all cultural forms are intricately intertwined. ..culture and the arts weave their way into the lived experience of a person’s everyday life. (Bressler p174)”. The discrimination of race, perhaps anti-Semitism, is how culture at the time intertwined with society further projected through literature. The book “The Sneetches generalized condemnation of race and ethnic prejudices appears tied to a fairly specific critique of class-based social inequalities” (Vaughan p16). The star bellied Sneetches have access to things that those without them do not. They have more fun playing and partaking in leisurely social activities with only those equally superior, those with stars. Individuals without stars are as a result segregated, and cannot partake in any of their favorable social festivities.


The culturally social classification that forms within the book results in those without stars to need stars reveals the need to fulfill the human desire for social acceptance. “We do need other people in order to truly be human, so it is not irrational for the Sneetches to seek acceptance or their place in the world” (Held p36). Essentially humans and Sneetches alike, are all striving for the same thing, acceptance. However changing ones physical characteristics in order to be considered equal is not exactly just or easy for anyone, human or Sneetch. The Sneetches cannot simply make stars appear so that they can be seen as the same. This then causes them to feel alienated and inadequate. They become desperate to fulfill their basic need of social acceptance.

Unfortunately people within a capitalistic society, such as America, consume in order to belong to the group due its artificial ideal that “possessing the right things and being the right kind of consumer” leads to social acceptance (Held p35). The story demonstrates this ideology by introducing McMonkey McBean to the Sneetches with his buyable solution. He possesses a machine that will allow consumers to buy stars. This can be compared to modern day consumers’ buying popular name brand clothing as a way to a signal elevated social status or equality. “Buy wearing distinctive logos wears intend to let the world know they are well-enough to afford the brand…Sneetch stars can be removed or replaced for the right price” (Vaughan p16). Once the Sneetches have purchased their stars from McBean, they accept to be socially accepted. However, they are not.

It was that ”once the plain-bellied Sneetches acquired the external symbol of privilege, the presence of “stars upon thars”, those who had been in power, the original star-bellied Sneetches, turn to McBean, who uses another machine to remove stars from their bellies and declare the elitists are Sneetches sans stars” (Vaughan p16). Eventually both parties are using McBean, throwing money at him in order to gain or lose the star that will signify their social dominance. However, as this chaotically occurs the Sneetches  all fail to notice that the only one really benefiting from this exchange is the capitalist producer McBean.


To the Sneetches, “consumption may seem to be the answer to the alienated mind that can’t find satisfaction or belonging in their work endeavors, but nothing could be further from the truth” (Held p35).  They only eventually come to the realization that consumption is not the answer, when they are all economically powerless. “The Sneetches are unified by their “shared victimization,” that is, “a complete economic destruction of Sneetch society” when McBean drives away with all of their money” (Vaughan p17).  It is only after total economic and capitalist destruction that the Sneetches are able to come to terms with one another. No one Sneetch could tell what one was an original star-belly and what one was not, since the star no longer signified economical privileged there was no longer a need for inequality.

Without capitalism, Marxist scholar Eric Fromm believes that society can terminate the problem of “normative humanism”.  Fromm believes that capitalism is based on how well it allows our essence to be manifested, or expressed. “Human beings all have needs, some of which are common among all animals…However, there are other needs that are exclusive to human beings” (Held). These needs include relatedness, transcendence, rootedness, a sense of identity and a frame of orientation and devotion. Humans, and Sneetches, need to feel as if they belong in this world and among others. Fromm notes it as it not being irrational for the Sneetches to turn to McBean to satisfy the human necessity for acceptance. He labels more so as “unfortunate that they try to achieve this through consumerism” (Held p36). It is disappointing that society needs to buy ones identity, and the story of the Sneetches exemplifies this. Although the tale may not provide its readers with a presentable way to fix this problem within society, the text does still inspire change by raising awareness to the ridiculousness that is within American society.


Summary of the Book:

Trailer of the Movie Version: 

The story of The Lorax was written by Dr. Seuss in 1971, and it was considered to be one of his personal favorites (Miller p1). Within the tale, “Seuss lampooned the rapacious greed of a straw-man capitalist and celebrated the environmental activism of the littler character, who “speaks for the tress”” (Miller p1). This character referred to as little would of course be the Lorax, and his role is anything but small. This orange scruffy monster is the protector of the forest, which is symbolism for the entire world. The Lorax works hard to do his job, and takes great pride in it because he knows how important the planet is to not only him but to all of the animals that live there. The forest however gets put into jeopardy when a greedy man decides to come in and destroy it simply for his own economic gain. This action by this one individual leads to catastrophic events that eventually, kill the forest and all that once lived there, leave because it is no longer a safe for them to stay.

Overall the story is colorful and amusing, while at the same time is powerfully intimidating due to its black and unpleasant vision for the future. Seuss’s explanation for the story’s darkness in 1983 was that, “Every once in a while I get mad…The Lorax came out of my being angry” (Miller p2). Seuss’s frustration came from the constant abuse of the environment and society by selfish capitalist industries for the means of their own economic gain. Seuss turned his frustrations into an entertaining yet educational experience through his creation of The Lorax. “The ecology books I’d read were dull…In The Lorax I was out to attack what I think are evil things and let the chips fall where they might” (Miller p2), and they did. The story The Lorax to this day has continued to both inspire and anger those who read it due to its political and means for forceful action.

From the story itself one could easily examine the dominant Marxist messages present throughout, such as capitalists selfishly distributing property in means of production. The man in the straw-man capitalist is known as the Once-ler. “The Once-ler owns his Thneed factory. He has invested his own time, money, labor, and ingenuity into building and biggering his factory until it’s productive and profitable….His original investment paid out, and the profits he made were reinvested in his factory to bigger it and increase production in order to make more money” (Held p30). People work for the Once-ler and the Once-ler pays them, and with that pay they consume, the cycle continues. Capitalism is built on this cycle, and while this may seem normal to most, there is an alternative to it. Marxism recognizes that while production needs to occur in order for people needs to be met, things get tricky when what is produced is no longer what people need, but what can be seen as profitable (Held p30). While the thneeds produced are considered to be what everyone needs, they are not. The thneeds are materialistic objects that are advertised as something society needs to have in order to survive, but in reality they don’t.

In capitalist societies production is based not on what is needed but what can be sold. “Think Thneeds! Instead, things are produced simply to be sold, so that producers can accumulate more money, bigger their business, sell more and so on” (Held p30). While the Thneed is clearly not an object that is necessary to better human survival, the Once-ler like many big business is prepared to make you think you do so that he can make a profit. “If the Once-ler, or any capitalist, can convince, someone they “need” their product, then they’ll be able to sell it”, regardless of the consequences (Held p30). While in the movie the Once-ler sings a song as a form of advertisement, in the book there is no need for such a performance. He simply broadens consumers mind to the endless possibilities of the Thneed, such as fashion in order to get them to buy it. This is an example of capitalist influencing others to buy into their false ideology or consciousness. They become almost brainwashed to believe that the Thneed is something that they need to have in order to survive. Consequently, just as the Once-ler is willing to do whatever it takes in order to sell, consumers are willing to do whatever it takes in order to buy, allowing for the vicious cycle to continue until it is much too late.

Clips from the Movie:

Materialism: False Consciousness: 



As a result of the Once-ler’s capitalistic greed, the forest and all who live there suffer. The forest loses all of its trees and all its inhibitors are caused to leave. While at first the Once-ler had no concern for anyone but himself, he soon realizes the detrimental damage he caused as a result of his greed. The Lorax both tried to warn the Once-ler what would happen if his mass production continued, but he wouldn’t listen. The Once-ler did not realize how important the forest really was to not only himself, but his business. Without the trees, there is no production or consumption. There is no life. The Once-ler and society lose everything. The Once-ler has to live alone with his guilt and shame for many years. He becomes old gray and very remorseful. It isn’t until the boy comes along, symbolizing future generations, that hope begins to flourish once again. The Once-ler tells the boy what he didn’t know then but knows and values now. “Unless someone like you, cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, It’s not” (Radical p7).  Similar to The Butter Battle Book, this is Seuss again putting the end of the story in the power of the readers’ hands. While the book is kinder in a sense that it does not end in a blank page, the story does prompt the reader to realize that he could be that change that betters the society. Just as the boy regrows the forest by caring for a single seed, children of America can too better their world from the harm done by greed.

Clip from Movie:Power of the Individual: 


When Seuss spoke first of its creation he did not hesitate to label it as a method of propaganda (Miller p 4). He attacks corporate greed and excessive consumerism, themes that remind many of How the Grinch Stole Christmas“(Radical p7). Unlike the Grinch however, The Lorax was not as liked among society because it went against the power of big businesses, Aka America. An example of this dislike could be seen when, “The Lorax was once banned by a California school district because of its obvious opposition to clear-cutting by the powerful logging industry” (Radical p7). The frustration with the controversial book only strengthened once it was put onto the big screen. When it was released as a movie in March, it prompted many to declare the story as “too liberal”” (Karstens-Smith p1). The Lorax despite its ratings is a powerful piece of Marxism, exposing all ages to the harm that can come from capitalism in a fun and captivating story even future generations can understand. The Lorax speaks for the trees, just as Seuss speaks for the people.

Clip from Movie: Save Society:

“Let it Grow”: 

Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

Book Summary:  

Dr. Seuss is well aware of the societal dilemma of materialism occurring within America. As a result he writes the How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In the story, the Grinch a green, ugly character living in isolation is bitter at the Whos living in the town of Whoville. The Whos are happy with their riches and materialistic things, that Grinch becomes fed up with this inequality and comes down from his mountain of garbage to steal all of the Who’s Christmas presents. In doing so, the story sets up a social clash which results in a radical change within the town forever. The Grinch got all of the Who’s in Whoville to realize the lack of importance of materialistic things, and the overall importance of one another. He dramatically changed the false consciousness that controlled not only Christmas, but the Whos forever.

Example of Materialism residing in How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

Movie Version: 

Money and materialistic objects cannot buy love or happiness, even though the superstructure wants us to think it could. Dr. Seuss presents an epidemic going on within our society that needs to be changed. Seuss recognizes that society “in asserting their materialistic view of humanity…the economic means of production within society-what they call the base-both endangers and controls all human institutions and ideologies,” (Bressler 167). By putting so much importance on materialistic objects and less on one another, we fail to realize our true importance while simultaneously fueling the superstructure’s economic means of production. The amount of stuff we consume differentiates us into different social classes. “By controlling material relationships, the bourgeoisie control a society’s ideology” (Bressler 168). People lose their individual self. They fall victim to losing the true value of themselves and their place within society.

Both Marx and Seuss realize that this false consciousness dominating capitalist America, and argue that it needs to be changed. Through the conflict Dr. Seuss sets up between the Grinch and the Who’s, he is using a metaphor for a much needed social clash, and or class conflict. By having the Grinch, who is of low social status, steal the Whos’ gifts he is presenting a social clash that leads to a radical change in their economic base of their Who society. When the Grinch takes away their presents, at first they were sad.

Example of Grinch’s Social Clash:

Movie Version: 

giphyHowever, following the sadness of the social clash, the Whos came to realize the truth of their false consciousness, or negative ideology, and make a radical change. Their future focus was no longer on materialistic things but instead shifted to celebrating one another, including the Grinch. The Grinch joining in on the celebration and being equally included represents the joining of the social classes. The rich are no longer richer, while the poor are poorer and thus oppressed, as the Grinch was living in isolated wasteland. There is now and forever worker’s paradise, equality put into place by benevolent self-rule, one that is possible in America as well.

Example of Change: Workers Paradise:

Movie Version: 

Christmas came just the same.

Christmas came just the same.

Short Summary of Book: 

In the story Yettle the Turtle, there is a large turtle population (the working class) that is being controlled by King Yertle (a metaphor for the bourgeoisie). They are bound to follow Yertle without question. This is a classic example of Louis Althusser’s process of interpellation (Bressler p173). In this interpellation, a common attitude is spread among the people, due to its influence by the superstructure, the prevailing forces of society in this case King Yertle. Althusser makes a valid point in saying that the dominant class could choose to use force in order to control the working class. However there is often no need because of the ideological state apparatus present among the working classes. To apply this to Yertle the Turtle, in the story the turtles follow orders without question. Marx would not be surprised this conscious and unconscious control put in place by the dominate Yertle. “The ruling class will force its ideology on the proletariat, also called the wage slaves” (Bressler 168). They abide by the ridiculous rules as well as the laborious orders thrust upon them, because they believe that this is the proper order of things. Yertle has power over them without even trying to because the turtles believe that this is the way things are supposed to be.

As most Marxists are aware the dominant classes never seem to have enough, they always want more. The working class, or the wage slaes, fall victim to becoming more and more oppressed as the rich become richer and the poorer become poorer (Bressler 168). King Yertle becomes dissatisfied with his pond kingdom. He wants a bigger and better one; he wants to be up higher. In order to do so, he will go by any means necessary including abusing his subjects (his wage slaves). “Yertle, king of the pond, stands atop his subjects in order to reach higher than the moon, indifferent to the suffering of those beneath him. In order to be “rules of all that I see,” Yetle stacks up his subjects so he can reach higher and higher” (Radical p3).  Yertle demands for all the turtles to stand on top of one another for his benefit. Uncaring to the physical and emotion toll it inflicts on his people.

Social Divide

Yertle’s greed widens the social divide and reinforces the class oppression within the kingdom. This class differentiation paves the way for a social clash, a shift in society’s laws customs, and religions (Bressler 168). There is a common wage slave, a turtle named Mack whom just like the others in his class have followed the orders of Yertle. However, over time his place on the bottom of the pile becomes so uncomfortable that he feels the need to speak up. He says to the King, “I don’t like to complain, But down here below, we are feeling great pain. I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, But down at the bottom we, too, should have rights” (Radical p3). The King is unmoved by Mack’s words, for in their society equality does not exist. What the workers need isn’t as important as what the bourgeoisie want, and Yertle wants to be tall. As a result of the kingdoms common hegemony, that the working class doesn’t matter, Yertle tells Mack to shut up.

Social Clash

This is the final and last straw for Mack. He takes matters into his own hands and causes the social clash to finally take place. “Frustrated and angry, Mack burps, shaking the carefully piled turtles, and Yertle falls into the mud. His rule ends and the turtles have their freedom” (Radical p3). By Dr. Seuss creating this story he hoped to relay the message that “ordinary people can overthrow unjust rules if they understand how to use their own power. The story’s final lines reflect Geisel’s political outlook: “And the turtles, of course, all the turtles are free, As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be”” (Radical p3). This is a political and social concern that was held close to Geisel and was thus reflected in not only this story but many of his political cartoons as well. He delivered the same powerfully political message to his adult PM readers, as he did to his child audiences. Equality is crucial but we need to create change in order to gain it, and we need to because, we all deserve it.


Unfortunately the story of Yertle the Turtle, is considered to not well liked because it is one of the various books written by Seuss that goes against the grain. Often, “text is like every other commodity produced by capitalism” (Bressler p172). It is determined by the market what can and should be read in order to censor the publics’ consciousness. Since Yerttle the Turtle is going against leadership, and rallies for the people rather than just abiding by social norms, it has been seen as too liberal, angering many teachers’ unions, and the provincial government frosty (Smith p1). “Yertle the Turtle has recently crawled back onto banned book lists; in April 2012 the Prince Robert School district in British Columbia, CA removed the book from schools because it violated a school ban on political messages from the line “I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom, we too should have rights” (Liberman p1). Teachers have been told that they can’t display Dr. Seuss quotes because they are considered political messaging, (Karstens-Smith p1).

As a result of this ban, action is taking place in order to control the messaging. The district has informed a total of eight teachers through letters that “they could face discipline for displaying political messages” (Karstens-Smith p1). One first grade teacher was already reprimanded by her school district, for displaying a Yertle the Turtle quote on her clothing or in her vehicle. Dr. Seuss books have been hit for their political messages for decades (Karstens-Smith p1). As a result they have been banned by those controlling the cannon such as the teacher’s union, for going against society’s dominating views on the world. They don’t want to cause a stir in society by presenting such liberal views at such a young age. Controlling them now, makes controlling them later on as an adult much more manageable. Ask any Marxist.

Even Dr. Seuss says: 


Short Summary of Book: 

The Butter Battle Book, is Dr. Seuss’s way of presenting a complex situation, war, to his young audience. Dr. Seuss uses his story to show how both sides of those fighting in the Cold War were wrong. America, the capitalists, did not like Dr. Seuss’s contradicting perspective and consequently had The Butter Battle Book banned in several parts of the United States as well as parts of Canada “The Capitalists decree what beliefs are acceptable, what values are to be held and what laws are to be formed. In other words, the capitalists, not the working classes, control society’s ideology (its hegemony) and its social consciousness,” (Bressler p177).  This is why Capitalist America did not like Dr. Seuss’s interpretation that both they and the Soviets were equally wrong in their fight.  They wanted American society to be on their side and follow their hegemony, their hatred of the Soviets, so that they could have both fighters and supporters. The working class would do their capitalist bidding and possibly wipe out each other, while they sat back and watched their stubborn beliefs and values be fought for by their people.

Dr. Seuss did not like the Cold War, and thus wrote The Butter Battle Book. “I’m no anti-military, Giesel told a friend at the time, “I’m just anti-crazy” (Radical p7). Seuss was appalled by the Cold War, and equated its battle to be as silly as which side of the bread should be buttered. “His publicists promoted in after-school-special language as “probably the most important book Dr. Seuss has ever created,”” (Miller p3). “Seuss called The Butter Battle Book an echo of my days as a political cartoonist” (Miller p3). By writing the story he was able to put the fate of the Cold War in the hands of those that are actually being affected by it, the working class which includes children.

Within the story itself there are two groups of people, fighting over the proper way to butter your toast. “The battle is between the Yooks and the Zooks, who do not realize that they are more alike than different, because they live on opposite sides of a long wall…One of the main characters is a warmongering grandfather, an obvious stand-in for Ronald Reagan, the aging president who challenged the Soviet Union with a defense buildup.”(Miller p3). Seuss uses the grandfather to demonstrate to both the reader and his grandson, the “”Little Boy,” the code name for the Hiroshima bomb” (Miller p3), the truths present on both sides of the wall. By looking at the situation through the eyes of the Yooks and the Zooks, Seuss demonstrated what he saw that the “moral equivalence, the choice between freedom and totalitarianism amounted to no more than an eating preference” (Miller p3).

The Wall: Separation between the Zooks and the Yooks

The Wall: Separation



Base and Superstructure

Base and Superstructure

Capitalist Decree: Social Consciousness

Capitalist Decree: Social Consciousness

The story continues with both the Yooks and the Zooks competing with one another to “make bigger and better weapons until both sides invent a destructive bomb (the “Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo”) that, if used, will kill both sides.” The tension is clearly very high at this point, and the reader is left on the edge of his seat. The book then ends with a blank page, Seuss’s creative way of handing the conflict over to the reader. The life of both the Yooks and the Zooks will rest in their hands. The blank page is strategically left for the reader to think and determine how the conflict will be resolved. Will both sides be annihilated, or will the reader be the change that saves and betters society. They have the power to decide.

Works Cited

Posted: May 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

Works Cited

Dreier, Peter. “Radical Reading: The Progressive Dr. Seuss.” Nonprofit Organization. By Dreier., 28 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 May 2015. <;.

Held, Jacob M., ed. Dr. Seuss and Philosophy: Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! Rowman & Little Field Publishers, 2011. Google Books file.

Karstens-Smith, Gemma. “The politics of Dr. Seuss; Teachers told not to display ‘political messages’ from Yertle and company.” Times Colonist [Victoria, British Columbia] 26 Apr. 2012, Final ed., News: A2. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 16 May 2015. <;.

Miller, John J. “Friends of the Lorax: Dr. Seuss’s politics for children.” National Review 19 Mar. 2012: n. pag. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 23 May 2015. <;.

Vaughan, Mary Renn. “The Sneetches: Dr. Seuss’s Critique of Consumer Culture and Classism.” Penumbra: n. pag. Web. 24 May 2015. <;.

Video  —  Posted: May 21, 2015 in Uncategorized