Dr. Seuss Essay, Research Paper
Dr. Seuss I took an unconventional approach in the topic I chose for my reading assignment – whereas most groups selected single novels, my partner and I opted to read a collection of short stories by none other than the notorious Dr. Seuss. Were I writing this essay on a “normal” book, I would be able to pose a question about the book itself and answer it in an ordinary sort of way. However, given the subject matter I have chosen, an essay on an individual book, though possible, would be a very tricky thing to do. It would be wiser, and probably easier, to respond to the man himself. My decision to respond to the man himself makes many more choices – what facet of Dr. Seuss shall I ask myself questions about? I think perhaps I first need to give some brief biographical information on the man to understand the background he’s coming from. In 1904, Theodore Seuss Geisel was born in Massachusetts, USA. I have not been able to find too much documentation about his childhood, but he certainly did not come from a terribly poor or terribly unsuccessful family… in fact, his family had owned a local brewery in their home town of Springfield for several years. Ever since his childhood, Geisel had dabbled in the fields we all know and love him for today… for instance, during bible recitals, he read the verses to a rhythm and often in rhyme. In High School he wrote many short essays and drew cartoons for the school paper, and even then he had adopted a pseudonym for himself – “Pete the Pessimist”. Upon graduation, Geisel began studying literature at Oxford university, as his original intent was to become an educator… even then, he punctuated his time at Oxford with his job editing and contributing to the “Jack-O-Lantern”, their humour magazine… his work there was published under the name “Dr. Theophrastus Seuss”. Upon Geisel’s graduation, he found that work for educators was slimmer than that he had first expected, and performed various odd jobs… his big break into the writing business came in 1937: Theodore had just gotten off a boat, and was sitting in a tavern. Due to a storm, the boat had been rocked back and forth, and the rhythm of this rocking was still very prevalent in his mind. Overcome by the rhythm, he got out some paper and penned “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street”, under the name “Dr. Seuss”. Seuss, obviously proud of what he had done, attempted to get his book published – 27 letters of rejection came in from 27 companies telling him that his work was much too unconventional for children to understand and relate to and all that mish-mash, and it was the 28th company that dared to publish his work. That risk certainly paid off for them… and the rest, as they say, is history. Writing all of this, I have just thought of a question to explore: Many authors publish many books for many different reasons… to put them all into a very big nutshell, however, you can see them all in two different groups: Firstly, there are those who publish for money and fame, churning out one book after another in an attempt to capitalize/attract audience – although some people might argue this, current “big-name” authors like Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton fit into this category. Secondly, there are authors who publish for the thrill of creativity and writing, for the art rather than the money… they would rather contribute to the artistic world than their financial world (although most authors would agree that a bit of both would be nice). Dr. Seuss, in the selections he publishes, talks about subjects that obviously most people in today’s society would agree with. For Example: “The Lorax” deals with environmental issues which most people nowadays can attest to caring about, and “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street” deals with the importance of the imagination, something that few people would dispute. Since Dr. Seuss’ target audience is children (although his last two books, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” and “You’re Only Old Once” were geared toward an older audience… it would be interesting to see if he would have continued in that vein supposing he did not die), parents are the ones in charge of the buying… and most ‘responsible’ parents would like their children to learn the morals and ethics Seuss preaches in his stories. Was Dr. Seuss simply writing stories targeted to moral-hungry parents to rack in the dollars, or did he seriously have something creative to say or do? That shall be the subject of this essay. Since I do not have any serious autobiographical information on the man, and since I’m not Dr. Seuss himself I obviously cannot get inside his head and decipher what exactly his intentions were. I shall attempt to answer that question using selections from his writing and artistry, for those are the closest we can get to the mind of this genius (and he is a genius whether he is a member of group 1 or 2 … marketing geniuses and creative geniuses both fit in the “genius” category). I shall go about this task in a typical report sort of way, by showing the case for Group 1, showing the case for Group 2, and finally writing my personal opinion. Part 1 – Seuss as a money-hungry product of the system: I said it before, but I’ll say it again: If you look at the works of Dr. Seuss, extreme moral undertones abound. Books such as the so previously mentioned “The Lorax” and “Bartholomew and the Oobleck” teach children to respect the environment, a message further improved upon by books like “McElligott’s Pool” and “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” which show the diversity of living things. Books such as “The Foot Book” teach children tolerance for all different type of people and things, denouncing racism and sexism and any other –ism you can think of. That message certainly should be heeded, but can it be proven that Seuss was an adamant supporter of those morals? Being born in 1904, when the status of civil rights was very different, he was almost definitely raised with a less egalitarian viewpoint than children born in the past 20-30 years – he could have either been truly in opposition to what was going on in the 50’s when “The Foot Book” was written, or he could have been latching onto the civil rights trends that were prevalent and, after a period of time, accepted. More evidence about this later. In 1950, Seuss read an article saying that educators and teachers thought children did not have good reading skills. Seuss decided to fulfill that need and wrote “The Cat In The Hat”, the first-ever beginner reader book that was fun to read (he would later publish many more books fulfilling the same function) – up ‘til that point, the ultra-bland Dick and Jane literature was the only thing struggling young readers had any access to. Here’s another little dilemma: Was the “Cat in the Hat” an exercise of creative power, an attempt to seriously improve upon the youth of that time, or an attempt to make money by monopolizing on fun children’s reading education (the Cat in the Hat, after all, sold 50 million copies). Seuss did originally want to become a teacher (come to think of it, he did teach millions of children… but that’s another topic), so perhaps this educational altruism was what he really desired… then again, how many teachers are in schools because they want to improve the minds of children and how many are in schools because they want to put food on their tables – I am fairly certain that there are more of the latter group than the former. As you can recall, Seuss learned that children weren’t reading well from a magazine article… did this article alert him to a growing educational issue, or show him a mental image of what his “big break” should be? I’m afraid this question cannot be answered. Authors who write for the sake of writing usually always do it as a method of expressing their own creativity. In some of his works Dr. Seuss was flamingly creative (“There’s a Wocket in my Pocket”, “The Sleep Book”, etc… nearly all the ones that deal with biodiversity) via his artwork and interesting use of language… as creative as creative can be. In other books, however, Seuss’ work was… dull. “Bartholomew and the Oobleck”, for instance, does not have any redeeming artwork, the words are in prose rather than poetry, and the storyline is quite manufactured. “Hop on Pop” is obviously not a creative undertaking… phrases like “Hop. Pop. Hop on Pop.” aren’t the cleverest things you can come up with. The creativity that Seuss was usually full of was, in the end, childish creativity… few individuals have remained creatively intrigued by childish subjects all their lives (Jad Fair is an example of one of those rarities), but, although his professional “image” makes it seem otherwise, Seuss was not one of them. He had a wide range of adult ideas he wanted to get out too. For example, look at these two paintings of his – the first is untitled, and the second is “Cat Detective in the Wrong Part of Town”: Scenes of what I presume to be bondage (see the shackles on the cow’s arm and the small masked woman?) and downright trippiness aren’t exactly children’s fare. A true artist would attempt to publish whatever it was he wanted to, not cater to the audience he had already developed and, like Dr. Seuss, keep all of his creative activities that differ from the norm in wraps (these pictures were not publicized as much as any of his books… most people do not even know they exist). Finally, another sign of an artist selling out (in the music industry, anyway) is their advertising products that they do not genuinely, 100% believe in and want to share with the world… it’s a dead giveaway that you want money if you lend your original ideas to something you don’t support. Personally, I don’t believe Dr. Seuss is as adamant a supporter of Cellophane and Narragansett ale as he is of environment-friendliness and civil rights. I may be wrong on that, who knows, but observe: With that, I conclude the first section of the essay, and begin the second. Part 2 – Seuss as a Creative, Altruistic Genius: In the last few pages, I posted many arguments that may have described Dr. Seuss as someone in search of money – given the society we live in, you really can’t be blamed for greed, but that is a different story. In those arguments there were many times when I countered myself, and all of those counterings work toward this case… please keep that in mind. To summarize what I said: Given all the subject matter that Seuss has written about for so much of his life, it is impossible to think that the man wouldn’t have any feelings on them at all… even if he just mildly believed in the morals he taught, he still educated many generations with them and did make a big impact on the world. If you look at some of the things Dr. Seuss has done voluntarily, you see a moral and honorable man… during WW2 he was involved in the making of government films, much like his contemporary Walt Disney. Although his films were injected with a heavy dose of American propaganda (remember the country that he was from, and the conditions he grew up in… anyone who has his upbringing will be pro-American), many of them demonstrated morals as well… as a matter of interest, in 1947 he won an Academy award for his film “Design for death”. Although I cannot put one of Seuss’ films in this essay, I can show you some of his political cartoons. Yes, they are very slanted, but when it comes to WW2 we all know who the good guys and who the bad guys were… [Notice how in the turtle cartoon, he uses well-known he had already created to help get his message across] Although people who are serious about books often do not consider Dr. Seuss, his impact is bigger than many authors we consider “important”. Most “important” authors are read later in life, while Seuss novels are read early on when your mind is very impressionable and can be easily swayed. The impact Seuss’ teachings have on you are likely to stay for a long, long time, whereas the impact of the teachings of an adult author like… umm… Hemingway are only extreme if you’re extremely into his books (actually, I haven’t read anything by Hemingway so he isn’t the best example… I’m just using him as a generic author most educated adults agree on the talent of). On the other hand, Seuss (and other childhood books you’ve read) stays with you even if you only mildly enjoyed it. That’s how the young mind works. What I mean to say is this: Seuss has made a huge positive impact, whether he truly wanted to or not… even if he did do it for money, the end result was undeniably good and perhaps that money was well-deserved. A phrase from the last paragraph that I’d like to add on to is “do it for the money”. When Dr. Seuss was born his financial situation wasn’t one of the shabbiest in the world and when he died he was quite a wealthy man. Money, obviously, was something he wanted, but according to some of his writings once he got it he didn’t really appreciate the rich, socialite lifestyle that went with it. A few of his poems have dealt with his disapproval of socialites and their constant, pretentious parties that he forced himself to go to – for example: Said an artist with minutes to live “I have very few minutes to give To the Smarties and Farties At long local parties,” And ended his life with a shiv. Seuss eventually got so fed up with the whole San Diego socialite scene that he just dropped out of it, preferring virtual isolation over spending his time in the breeding grounds of pretentiousness. Isolation brings forth suffering, and suffering for your art is a truly artistic thing to do indeed. The Bottom Line: I have now presented both sides of the case. So far in this essay I’ve acted as the prosecution and defense, and now it is my turn to be the judge: Both sides do have some strong points. The “Seuss wants money” theory is strengthened so much by the ads displayed that only a very strong counter-argument could break it, but the political cartoons and anti-socialite messages used in the “Seuss was an artist” theory manage to do it. It cannot be shown that Seuss was money-hungry all of his life, perhaps simply in its early stages when he just started off – he was heavily involved in advertising then, and his stories such as “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street” were not particularly ethic-conscious. When Seuss died in 1991, however, you get a definite image of a creative, artistic genius of a man… his advertising career had come to a close, his books constantly taught to respect yourself, others and your surroundings, and he exercised his artistic freedom while writing his final two stories, both adult-oriented. Dr. Seuss died an honorable man, and any selling out that he may have been guilty of is definitely, definitely excusable. ”How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” -Dr. Seuss (1904-1991)
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