Yertle the Turtle: Ideological State Apparatus

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: 



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