Dominated by momentous events such as World War I and II, space exploration, and decolonization, the 20th century significantly changed the history of the world and gave way to a new era of passionate leaders and critical writers. This age brought about political reforms and passive resistance evolving into progressive movements, but still bore witness to terrible tragedies such as racial and gender injustices, as well as the Great Depression, which caused devastating repercussions for the entire world.
Writers at the time took advantage of these harsh conditions, and let them inspire their writing, using words to convince their readers to take action against problems in society and politics. One such person was German-American social activist and writer, Dr. Seuss, who used his quickly growing platform to pose his main argument: the only way to progress is to take a stand for what he believes is right. Known today as one of the world’s best children’s authors for conveying controversial topics at an adolescent level, Dr. Seuss expresses his unyielding democratic and moralist views through these whimsical books, driven by his supportive upbringing from his parents and exposure to prejudice at a young age, demonstrating his advocacy for political and social changes in even his most famous works. His didactic books and satirical pieces are cherished to this day and his underlying messages on important topics influence the minds of children every day. Born on March 2, 1904, to Theodor Robert Giesel and Henrietta Giesel, Dr. Seuss, previously known as Theodor Seuss Giesel, enjoyed a relatively normal childhood, raised by exceptionally supportive parents. His father was the superintendent of a zoo near his family’s house and his mother loved to “encourag[e] him (Seuss) to draw animal caricatures on the plaster walls of his bedroom”, leading Seuss to adore creating wild and imaginative characters from a young age (Childhood 2).
Throughout his adolescence Seuss was surrounded by his parents, who became positive influences on not only his artistic and literary works but also his overall worldview, giving him a sense of stability and purpose in his books, even his most fantastical ones. Although he may have endured hardships later on in his young life, his perseverance derived from his loyal and devoted parents guiding and spurring on his creative energy from a young age encouraged him to never concede his beliefs just because he faced obstacles such as prejudice because of his nationality. During and after the second World War, German-Americans faced considerable prejudice and became separated from society, greatly affecting the next generation of these immigrants, one of which was Theodor Giesel himself. People became biased against the Giesel family, using them as scapegoats to express the contempt they felt against Nazi Germany. Consequently, this escalated to instances such as bullying or verbal assaults against Seuss in and out of school, causing him to hold a grudge against those who treated outcasts with cruelty. He became very sensitive to topics such as racial and religious injustices in society, and found a creative output for all of his views: children’s books. As shown throughout almost all of Seuss’s literary masterpieces, the author takes great pleasure in embedding political and social messages into these colorful lands, teaching his young and impressionable audience what he believes to be right and wrong. By using engaging rhetoric to enhance the story while still conveying his clear message, Seuss is credited as both a phenomenal children’s writer and outspoken political activist, a difficult feat to accomplish.
One of Seuss’s earlier books, Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose, shows a plea from the powerless and abused to stand up for themselves and to learn to be assertive when it comes to protecting their beliefs. While it may not have been as popular as titles such as Green Eggs and Ham or Cat in the Hat, Seuss still taught people important values through amusing characters such as Thidwick the moose and an engaging storyline. Seuss utilizes pathos to cause the reader to empathize with Thidwick when other animals take refuge in his antlers and cause him pain for their own personal benefit (1 Seuss 40). Although this kind moose is allowing them to take shelter in his antlers, they do not show their gratitude, instead causing the poor animal harm, leading readers to sympathize with Thidwick, symbolic of the powerless everywhere. Employing pathos strengthens Seuss’s argument that kindness is not an action that should ever be taken for granted by placing the reader in the point of view of the powerless and used, leading them to empathize with those who are oppressed and to make a change in their own lives and the lives of others. Additionally, Seuss advocates for the powerless and the governed in the book Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose, using symbolism to encourage those without a voice to make progressive changes in their life and addressing the reader directly in the form of rhetorical questions to put the power of change in the hands of the reader. Thidwick, burdened with the weight of many animals resting in his antlers, makes a choice and sheds his old antlers and his unwanted residents and leaving them behind to start a life that benefits him (1 Seuss). These antlers that are shed are symbolic of an oppressive agent, such as an organization or government, deteriorating to make way for a more open and accepting way of governing, clearly displaying Seuss’s argument that those who feel as if they are silenced should rise above their suppressors and take a stand for what they believe in.
In Seuss’s case, this oppressive factor was the government forgetting the importance of the masses and making illogical decisions that do not benefit the general public. Another book the German-American wrote to emphasize the importance of individuals in a community getting an equal voice is Horton Hears a Who!. In this classic children’s story, Horton protects and eventually saves Who-ville, a tiny town located on a clover, from destruction, and once again Seuss’s argument that all people should have a voice of equal weight is clearly evident in this beloved story. In this tale, however, the author takes this idea and contributes to it further, claiming that the importance of anything should rely on existence alone, not size or standing in a community. This point is illustrated in the book’s most famous quote: “A person’s a person, no matter how small” (2 Seuss 3). Although this quote is said by Horton himself and may not occur during any pivotal moment in the book, Seuss is still speaking via his whimsical characters to simplify a complex fact of life that many adults to this day still do not understand how to respect. Furthermore, Giesel appeals to men and children alike to help solve the problem of unequal representation in the world and makes his plea even more powerful through his evocative skills of rhetoric. Throughout the compelling story, Horton Hears a Who!, Seuss utilizes cogent rhetoric to encourage others to use their prominent voice to make an impact on other’s lives. He employs the voice of the Whos, especially Jo-Jo, the young Who that cried out and proved the existence of his town, to symbolize the voices of average citizens who are ignored and ridiculed during times of great social discord, such as the McCarthy Red Scare during the Cold War era (2 Seuss 72). Jo-Jo, representative of people in society who do not fight for their beliefs, shows young children the importance of speaking out for what an individual believes to be morally right, teaching them that even one small voice can have an immense impact on the rest of the world. Seuss shows the younger generations that even though sitting idly by while the world is changing may seem like the easier option, fighting for beliefs and using a voice as a platform for reform can leave society permanently changed for the better. While it is evident that Dr. Seuss is an avid proponent of stating one’s opinions to incite change, he also advocates for a non-materialistic approach to happiness and discourages the exclusion of others based solely on different opinions.
In his unique Christmas story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Giesel makes evident his disdain for people who isolate others only based on a difference in characteristics or opinions, instead advocating for inclusion and happiness based on friendships and interactions with others. The Grinch, Seuss’s representation of people who are viewed as outcasts of society, despises Christmas and wishes to rid the town of any signs of the holiday, and – according to his logic – the Who’s happiness. Once viewed as an outcast, the Grinch wished to destroy other’s joy because he was not included in the activities that caused them to feel this way (3 Seuss 2). This demonstrates Giesel’s argument that when shunned and ignored by society, people who are excluded tend to lash out in a negative manner to seemingly “get back” at those who ignored them in the first place. However, once society accepts these isolated individuals despite a different outer appearance, such as the Who’s inviting the Grinch to Christmas dinner, everyone will understand more fully the importance of embracing other’s differences and finding happiness in the company of others, not in the judgment or prejudice against diverse people. Additionally, Seuss uses descriptive imagery to juxtapose the two worldviews of the Whos and of the Grinch. In How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a beloved children’s book that teaches the importance of inclusion and acceptance of others, Giesel utilizes rhetoric in the form of imagery and tone to describe the contrast between the citizens of Whoville and the Grinch. The opposition between the verbs and actions of the different characters exemplifies this point clearly. The book displays multiple accounts of the Grinch “taking” something, or acting in a way that makes the reader perceive him as a villain. The words hate, snarl, sneer, growl, and slither are all used by Seuss to make the reader see this character as one of bad intentions, causing the tone to be dark and brooding, confirming this notion when he writes: “He slunk to the icebox. He took the Whos’ feast! He took the Who-pudding! He took the roast beast!” (3 Seuss 56). Dr. Seuss juxtaposes these despicable actions against the wholesome verbs describing the Whos: feasting, singing, dreaming, and playing are all used to describe the actions that the Whos carry out, all of which are happy and bright. By setting these characters apart not only in morals and appearances, but in actions as well, Seuss illustrates his point that different people have different worldviews, and leaves it up to the reader to decide why the Grinch and the Whos act in the manner that they do. Giesel carefully chooses every word and literary device in his books to enhance the experience of reading for children and to subtly include important life lessons in his works.
One of Dr. Seuss’s most important legacies is carried out through children who read his books worldwide. He used descriptive language and invented new and whimsical words to engage his young audience and communicate his desire for change, environmentally, socially, and politically. Many times, children’s books are meant simply to entertain the young readers and develop their easily influenced minds, but Seuss’s easily recognizable characters made reading fun for kids, as well as teaching them universal themes in a relatable setting (The Legacy of Dr. Seuss 2). Giesel was able to teach children how to handle different challenging situations through funny animals and made-up worlds, and his lovable books inspire people every day to read and become strong advocates for what they believe to be right. Additionally, Seuss was able to change the face of children’s literature permanently through his goofy storylines and absurd scenery, disguising important learning objectives for adolescents in whimsical stories. Before Seuss published his first book, And to Think I saw it on Mulberry Street, literature aimed at children had only been made to teach a lesson at school, or how to properly obey the rules of society. However, Giesel changed this with his imaginative and inventive books, turning children’s literature from simple and straightforward to thrilling and engaging for adolescents (Theodor Giesel 3). His books bravely covered more modern and controversial topics than any children’s work had before, inspiring other authors to break away from the monotonous tone that was previously taken when educating children. Seuss used his platform as a well-known and beloved author to reach people across the globe, inspiring others with his optimistic outlook on life to stand up for what they believed to be true, and creating thought-provoking quotes to encourage leaders to guide with their morals. Dr. Seuss fought to change the way society perceived children’s books and how to teach kids controversial topics and used his social standing to advocate for political and social reforms during times of distress.
His supportive parents, along with the harsh discrimination he endured during his adolescence inspired his creativity and drove him to write for children. He used strong literary devices in his works, engaging his youthful audience and encouraging them to enforce change in their own lives, inspiring people across the globe to make a difference, even if it is only a small one. He is now one of the most famous authors in the world, and his words have left a lasting impact on every person who reads his books, “no matter how small”.