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Dr. Seuss and his use of symbolism in Children’s Literature. KATIE ODELL ENGLISH 4950 SUMMER 2008. The Life of Theodore Geisel.

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Dr seuss and his use of symbolism in children s literature l.jpg

Dr. Seussand his use of symbolism in Children’s Literature




The life of theodore geisel l.jpg
The Life of Theodore Geisel

  • Born in 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts, Theodore Geisel had a talent for “rhymes.” He later credited his mother for this talent as she would sing him to sleep.

  • He attended Dartmouth College where he was voted “Least Likely to Succeed” (Krull, 2004). After graduation, he moved to England, got married, and eventually moved back to the states, where he did advertising for Standard Oil (Moje & Shyu, 1992).

  • As WWII approached, he wanted to contribute to the war. However, he was too old for the draft (Springfield Museum, 2004).

  • Prior to his fame for children’s books, he found success as an advertising artist and a political cartoonist (Nel, 2001).

  • He began writing for PM magazine, where he signed his name Seuss, which was his middle name and his mother’s maiden name (Moje & Shyu, 1992).

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The Life of Theodore Geisel (continued)

  • In 1937, his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was published after being rejected a reported 27 times. According to Moje & Shyu (1992), “it became an instant hit.”

  • Seuss was asked by Vanguard Press to create and illustrate a children’s book, using only 225 “kid-friendly” words (Springfield Museum, 2004)

  • The Cat in the Hat was born, which is arguably the defining point that declared Seuss a children’s author and illustrator (Springfield Museum, 2004)

  • As stated by West (2005), Geisel’s messages were depicted in his stories and in most cases, it is not difficult to see the symbolism.

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  • Embedded in the heart of Yertle the Turtle, The Lorax, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss uses symbolism to reflect on real-life events, issues, and morals while managing to tell the stories in an energetic and memorable manner that caters to young learners.

Symbolism (n.): The practice of representing things by means of symbols or of attributing symbolic meanings or significance to objects, events, or relationships.

(dictionary.com, 2008)

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The Ideas Behind his Work…

  • According to Kennedy (2008), Dr. Seuss once stated, “Children want the same things we want. To laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained, and delighted."

  • My belief that Dr. Seuss wrote his books for reasons other than simply an intended moral is supported by a statement made by his wife, Helen, when she said, “Ted doesn’t sit down and write for children. He writes to amuse himself. Luckily what amuses him also amuses them” (Bunzel, 1959, p. 113).

  • With this in mind, Dr. Seuss created books that contained “Witty rhymes, engaging plots, and imaginative characters” (Kennedy, 2008).

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The Effects of World War II on his work

  • The inspiration behind some of Seuss’ early work, argued by many, can be attributed to his feelings of the war that was going on around him.

  • Cott states, “The cartoons show us the degree to which World War II influenced not only his later work but also all of us who grew up reading that work” (Nel, 2001).

  • In April 1941, nearly 80% of Americans opposed the war with Germany. According to Nel (2001), not only was Seuss in favor of aiding Britain, but he believed the war with Germany was inevitable.

  • After having difficulty finding a magazine that would publish his work (as it reflected the war), he discovered PM magazine; they favored American intervention and controversy.

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One of Seuss’ 1941 cartoons that was published in PM magazine represented his views of the war. It shows a bird that represents Uncle Sam, sitting in a chair while bombs are exploding all around him. This explains in a unique visual and verbal manner how Seuss really felt about the effects of America not becoming involved in the war in Germany.

The cartoon introduces Seuss’ use of rhyme and imagery to express valid points. This is also one of the first samples of what Seuss’ post war work would be like.

Said a bird in the midst of a blitz“Up to now, they’ve scored very few hitz,so I’ll sit on my cannyOld Star Spangled Fanny…”And on it he sitz and he sitz.-Dr. Seuss

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The Importance of the Individual magazine represented his views of the war. It shows a bird that represents Uncle Sam, sitting in a chair while bombs are exploding all around him. This explains in a unique visual and verbal manner how Seuss really felt about the effects of America not becoming involved in the war in Germany.

Utilizing inspiration from the war and the things going on in the world, Geisel was able to create countless children’s books that continue to be used today across the world to educate children not only on basic English concepts, but also on basic morals. During the early years of Geisel writing children’s books, the world was experiencing Hitler’s dictatorship over Germany. Several anti-Semitic laws were passed and the Jewish were excluded from all political and economic life. This directly opposes Geisel’s wishes to “urge the central importance of the individual,” as stated by Wolosky (2000).

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  • Written in 1958, this story reflects an opposition to fascism

    Fascism (n.): a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism (dictionary.com, 2008)

  • Yertle (a turtle representing Hitler) progresses up to the top of the turtle pile in a dictator-type position, generally at the expense of the other turtles. He takes advantage of a turtle named Mack, who is at the bottom of the pile. When Mack burps, the pile crumbles and Yertle comes tumbling down into the mud.

Yertle the Turtle

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  • I believe that although Dr. Seuss may not have began with a specific moral in mind, he was able to write about strong feelings he had experienced, and naturally, the moral was created. He wanted to teach children that if you treat others poorly, and use others for your benefit, it will catch up with you in the end. This story clearly expresses the importance of individualism and the idea that “everyone is equal.” By telling his story using the turtles and unique rhymes, he was able to put it in terms that children can relate to.

And today the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.And the turtles, of course... all the turtles are freeAs turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.

- Dr. Seuss

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  • Written in 1971, this story reflects the importance of environmentalism

    Environmentalism (n.): Advocacy for or work toward protecting the natural environment from destruction or pollution (dictionary.com, 2008)

  • The Lorax is a forest creature whose home is destroyed when the Once-ler begins a Thneed-making business using the woolly Truffula trees. The forest becomes polluted forcing all of the creatures to leave. The Once-ler ignores the Lorax’s pleas, but later reveals that he has one Truffula seed left and gives it to a little boy so the forest can be rebuilt.

The Lorax

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  • In the end of this story, the Once-ler gave the last Truffula seed to a little boy. I believe this is symbolic of the responsibility of all generations to protect the environment. It shows our ability to make changes and it shows the effect we can have on our world. I find this to be extremely influential to the younger generation of children, as it teaches them about caring for the environment. Dr. Seuss presents the material in a “fun” way that appeals to children. As Wolosky (2000) stated, “Without the personal and individual acceptance of responsibility, the very survival of the world is threatened.”

"SO...Catch!" calls the Once-ler.He lets something fall."It's a Truffula Seed.It's the last one of all!You're in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.Then the Loraxand all of his friendsmay come back.“

-Dr. Seuss

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  • I believe that The Lorax also teaches children about greed. The Once-ler continues his thneeding business and becomes wealthy; but in the end, he is alone. All of the animals have left the forest because they no longer have a habitat. Children that read this book are attracted to Seuss’ rhyming sounds, as well as the bold, animated drawings (Research, 1994). Once again, though Dr. Seuss denied writing about morals, he did write about an important issue, which is especially relevant today. He also set the stage for making reading fun for children worldwide.

I believe this 1968 quote by Dr. Seuss sums up his purpose in children’s literature.

“Most every child learning to read has problems, and I am just saying to them that reading is fun” (New York Times, 1968, cited in Commire, 1982, p. 116).

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  • Written in 1957, this story focuses on his concern with commercialism

    commercialism (n.): inappropriate or excessive emphasis on profit, success, or immediate results (dictionary.com, 2008)

  • The Grinch dresses up as Santa Claus and makes a plot to steal all of the food and presents in Who-ville. Despite his attempt, he fails. Nonetheless, all of the Whos that live in Who-ville still wake up on Christmas morning just as joyful as ever. It forces the Grinch to think that “Maybe Christmas…perhaps… means a little bit more” (Wolosky, 2000).

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

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  • Too often, children lack the understanding of the real meaning of Christmas. Everyone gets caught up in the commercial aspect of Christmas and forget the true reason for the holiday, the fellowship and the birth of Jesus Christ. In this story, I feel that Dr. Seuss is putting emphasis on that real meaning of Christmas. When the Who’s wake up and are joyful despite the Grinch’s visit, it shows that the presents really do not matter. Seuss once said, “Kids…can see a moral coming a mile off and they gag at it. But there’s an inherent moral in any story” (Bunzel, 1959, p. 113). Therefore, Seuss may not have originally intended to address this issue; however, it is one that I believe needs to be addressed with all young children.

The Grinch hated Christmas! The Whole Christmas season!Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.But I think that the most likely reason of allMay have been that his heart was two sizes too small. - Dr. Seuss

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  • According to Wolosky (2000), “commercialism has been a matter of American bad conscience since the Puritan landing.”

  • Beginning in the time of John Adams and continuing with Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, commercialism had “become a cause of positive alarm”(Wolosky, 2000). Emerson had expressed concern, in an essay regarding commercialism, that property was becoming the “want of self reliance” (Wolosky, 2000).

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  • And to think I Saw it on Mulberry Street matter of American bad conscience since the Puritan landing.”

    • Complete with Springfield imagery, including police officers riding red motorcycles, which is the color of Springfield’s famous Indian motorcycles (Springfield Museum, 2004)

  • The Sneetches

    • The truck driven by Sylvester Monkey McBean reflects the tractor on the streets of Springfield (Springfield Museum, 2004)

  • “Horton the Elephant”

    • Reflects the waterways in Springfield’s Forest Park (Springfield Museum, 2004)

Many of Seuss’ experiences as a child in Springfield are reflected in his work. For example…

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Highlights of Dr. Seuss’ Career matter of American bad conscience since the Puritan landing.”

  • Wrote and illustrated 44 children’s books

  • His books have been translated into more than 15 languages

  • Over 200 million copies of his books have been sold around the world

  • His books have developed into 11 children’s television specials, 2 motion pictures, and a Broadway musical

  • 2 Academy awards, 2 Emmy awards, Peabody award, Pulitzer prize

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In Summary… matter of American bad conscience since the Puritan landing.”

  • Throughout his career, Dr. Seuss used symbolism to address important issues in his children’s books. Most notably, he reflected on fascism in Yertle the Turtle, environmentalism in The Lorax, and commercialism in How the Grinch stole Christmas. By using unique rhymes, catchy words, and creative illustrations, he has been able to capture the hearts of children around the world and will continue to do so for many years to come.

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References matter of American bad conscience since the Puritan landing.”

Bunzel, R. (1959). Wacky World of Dr. Seuss. Life. 46, p. 113.

Commercialism. (n.) In Dictionary.com. Retrieved July 13, 2008, from www.dictionary.com.

Commire, A. (Ed.). (1982). Something about the author. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Company. p. 16.

Cott, Jonathan. Pipers at the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children's Literature. New York: Random House, 1983.

Environmentalism. (n.) In Dictionary.com. Retrieved July 13, 2008, from www.dictionary.com.

Fascism. (n.) In Dictionary.com. Retrieved July 13, 2008, from www.dictionary.com.

Kennedy, Elizabeth (2008). Hooray for Dr. Seuss! Retrieved on July 15, 2008, from http://childrensbooks.about.com/cs/authorsillustrato/a/drseuss.htm

Krull, Kathleen (2004). The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Grew up to become Dr. Seuss.

Moje, E.B., & Woan-Ru, S. (1992). Oh, the places you’ve taken us: RT’s tribute to Dr. Seuss. The Reading Teacher, 45, 670-676.

Nel, Philip (2001). Said a bird in the midst of a blitz…”: How World War II created Dr. Seuss. Mosaic: a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Studyof Literature, 34., p. 65.

Research Library Core (1994). Endangered species - The Lorax by Dr. Seuss / Journey of the.

The Reading Teacher, 47, 588.

The Springfield Museums (2004). All About Dr. Seuss. Retrieved July 16, 2008, from http://www.catinthehat.org/history.htm

www.chbucs.k12.pa.us/ allisonpark/faculty/geho...

Symbolism. (n.) In Dictionary.com. Retrieved July 13, 2008, from www.dictionary.com.

West, Angela (2005). Horton the Elephant is a Criminal: Using Dr. Seuss to Teach Social Process, Conflict, and Labeling Theory. Retrieved July 15, 2008, from http://proquest.umi.com.jproxy.lib.ecu.edu/pqdweb?index=4&sid=3&srchmode=1&vinst=PROD&fmt=3&startpage=-1&vname=PQD&did=991646691&scaling= FULL&pmid=36162&vtype= PQD&fileinfoindex=%2Fshare2%2Fpqimage%2Firs4%2F20080721201635281%2F26597%2Fout.pdf&rqt=309&TS=1216685796&clientId=15121

Wolosky, Shira (2000). Democracy in America: By Dr. Seuss. Southwest Review, 85, 178.