Theodor Seuss Geisel (pronounced /ˈgaɪzəl/; March 2, 1904 – September 24, 1991) was an American writer and cartoonist, most widely known for his children’s books written under his pen name, Dr. Seuss. He published over 60 children’s books, which were often characterized by imaginative characters, rhyme, and frequent use of trisyllabic meter. His most notable books include the bestselling Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. Numerous adaptations of his work have been created, including eleven television specials, three feature films, and a Broadway musical.
Geisel also worked as an illustrator for advertising campaigns, most notably for Flit and Standard Oil, and as a political cartoonist for PM, a New York City newspaper. During World War II, he worked in an animation department of the U.S Army, where he wrote Design for Death, a film that later won the 1947 Academy Award for Documentary Feature.
I think I was highly influenced by this guy when I was just learning to read, so it is interesting to go back now and read about his politics.
Geisel’s early political cartoons show a passionate opposition to fascism, and he urged Americans to oppose it, both before and after the entry of the United States into World War II. In contrast, his cartoons tended to regard the fear of communism as overstated, finding the greater threat in the Dies Committee and those who threatened to cut America’s “life line” to Stalin and Soviet Russia, the ones carrying “our war load”.
Geisel’s cartoons also called attention to the early stages of the Holocaust and denounced discrimination in America against African Americans and Jews, but he supported the Japanese American internment during World War II. Geisel himself experienced anti-semitism: in his college days, he was refused entry into certain circles because of a misperception that he was Jewish. Geisel’s treatment of the Japanese and of Japanese Americans, whom he often failed to differentiate between, has struck many readers as a moral blind spot. On the issue of the Japanese he is quoted as saying:
But right now, when the Japs are planting their hatchets in our skulls, it seems like a hell of a time for us to smile and warble: “Brothers!” It is a rather flabby battle cry. If we want to win, we’ve got to kill Japs, whether it depresses John Haynes Holmes or not. We can get palsy-walsy afterward with those that are left.—Theodor Geisel, quoted in Dr. Seuss Goes to War, by Dr. Richard H. Minear
After the war, though, Geisel was able to end his feelings of animosity, using his book Horton Hears a Who as a allegory for the American post-war occupation of Japan, as well as dedicating the book to a Japanese friend.
In 1948, after living and working in Hollywood for years, Geisel moved to La Jolla, California. It is said that when he went to register to vote in La Jolla, some Republican friends called him over to where they were registering voters, but Geisel said, “You my friends are over there, but I am going over here [to the Democratic registration].”
Though Geisel made a point of not beginning the writing of his stories with a moral in mind, stating that “kids can see a moral coming a mile off”, he was not against writing about issues; he said “there’s an inherent moral in any story” and remarked that he was “subversive as hell”.
Many of Geisel’s books are thought to express his views on a myriad of social and political issues: The Lorax (1971), about environmentalism and anti-consumerism; The Sneetches (1961), about racial equality; The Butter Battle Book (1984), about the arms race; Yertle the Turtle (1958), about anti-fascism and anti-authoritarianism; How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), about anti-materialism; and Horton Hears a Who! (1954), about anti-isolationism and internationalism.