I was talking to a coworker a few weeks ago about some night classes she had taken recently–one of which was in the humanities. She mentioned that she had written a paper on Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel, the famous children’s books author and illustrator. I assumed that the subject matter of her paper was directed towards his influence on children literature and left it at that. However, the next day, she brought to me a book entitled Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel by historian Richard H. Minear (The New Press, 1999).
I quickly discovered how very little I actually knew about the man behind Horton Hears a Who! and The Cat in the Hat. The meaning and purpose behind his children’s books and in Seuss’ works outside of children’s literature is quite fascinating indeed. During World War II, Seuss worked as the chief editorial cartoonist for the left-wing New York newspaper PM-–for which he drew more than 400 editorial cartoons from 1941 to 1943.
Seuss infused his political philosophy into his art. His editorial illustrations contained his trademark creatures–quite similar to those in his children’s books. Seuss used his bizarre characters to denounce social issues (including isolationism, racism, anti-Semitism and propaganda) and people (including Hitler, Stalin and the Japanese).
It is no wonder, then, that in his children’s books, Seuss embedded his fantastic creations into moral parables that spoke of progressive ideas. For example, The Sneetches was inspired by Seuss’s opposition to anti-Semitism and is a plea for racial tolerance. [Fun fact: the Sneetch creature first appeared in the political cartoons he drew for PM].
Horton Hears a Who! is a political statement about isolationism and is actually a parable about the American occupation of Japan. The Lorax and The Butter Battle Book are parables about the environment and the arms race, respectively.
I am sure that, to this day, many have no idea what the underlying meaning is in Seuss’ children’s books and know very little, if not nothing, about his political cartoons. Seuss deftly presented a political philosophy with such humor and finesse in his children’s books that it offends no one and few realize it as being political at all.
Seuss “advocated social change, teaching generations of children not only how to be better readers, but better people as well.” (The Political Dr. Seuss, Independent Lens).
To read more about this political side of Seuss, here are two good websites for your use and enjoyment.
- Mandeville Special Collections Library Presents “Dr. Seuss Went to War: A Catalog of Political Cartoons by Dr. Seuss”: http://orpheus.ucsd.edu/speccoll/dspolitic/
This site provides a complete catalog of Seuss’ political cartoons as seen in Minear’s book Dr. Seuss Goes to War. You can sort through the cartoons by people, war/domestic issues, countries/regions, and battles/battlefields.
- Independent Lens presents The Political Dr. Seuss: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/politicaldrseuss/index.html
This site is dedicated to the political side of Seuss. It also includes an inside look (including video clips) at the documentary entitled “The Political Dr. Seuss.” The documentary provides an intriguing portrait of Seuss and how he viewed the political and social changes of his time.
Written by: Béverly B.