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Dr. Seuss Fights Anti-Semitism

 Popular children's author Dr. Seuss sought to educate his young readers against bigotry and discrimination through his stories. Theodor Seuss Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss), the author of childhood favorites The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, among many others, was also a devoted crusader against anti-Semitism, who used his artistic and storytelling abilities to educate against prejudice.

 

Although he was a devoted Lutheran throughout his life, as a student he had experienced anti-Semitism when people mistakenly thought he was a Jew. An avid intellectual, he was also disgusted by the ignorant bandwagon nature of racism in the United States.

Geisel’s early work was aimed at adults. He worked at an advertising agency, and later as a political cartoonist for New York newspaper PM, and contributed more than 400 cartoons to the publication between 1941 and 1943, exploring themes ranging from America’s isolationism to the ineffectiveness of foreign aid.

In these early cartoons, the face of anti-Semitism is clearly labeled; Hitler is unmistakable; and controversial figures such as Charles Lindbergh and Senator Gerald Nye get obvious shout-outs. On two separate occasions, anti-Semitism is a hooded character resembling a Ku Klux Klan member. In some instances, he pointedly depicts Jews and Blacks in the exact same manner—except for a slight difference in skin color.

By enunciating each feature in his own depictions, Geisel manipulates the common themes found in anti-Semitic artwork. For example, Jews are often denoted by a large hooked nose, so he has drawn the Jew as a large Dodo bird with its characteristically large beak. Jews are also sometimes drawn wearing black, bowler hats; in his images, Geisel’s Jewish figures don Uncle Sam’s famous hat in reference to America’s lost Jewish identity. Most frequent however, is the image of Hitler, nose high in the air as he promotes white superiority and delivers the gift of racism to the rest of the world

Geisel, who dring this time also began publishing children's books, later focused on creating solely for children, and became the universally known Dr. Seuss. By incorporating teachings against bigotry and prejudice in his highly popular works, he most likely did far more for the cause he believed in then when he addressed adults whose opinions had already been formed.

Perhaps nowhere are Dr. Seuss’s anti-bigotry teachings more evident then in his story about the Sneetches, published in 1953, It is the story of a society where those born with a star on their belly reject and discriminate against those without one. In a round about way Dr. Seuss thus alludes to the “yellow star” Jews were forced to wear in many European societies in order to differentiate them from their Christian neighbors. Dr. Seuss tells how the star-bellied Sneetches excluded the non-starred Sneetches from barbecues and marshmallow roasts, and taught their children not to talk to or play with non-starred children.

Things change when a stranger introduces a machine that puts stars on to non-starred bellies – for a fee. The non-starred Sneetches eagerly pay up, and soon they are no longer distinguishable from the original star-bellies, much as the emancipation of the Jews in modern times ended their overt isolation and brought about their integration into society.

The old prejudices, however, do not disappear for the elitist Sneetches any more then they did for their human counterparts, and they immediately seek new ways to tell the undesirables apart, leading them to reject the single thing which in their own mind made them better – their stars. They pay the travelling salesman to remove their stars from them.

Dr. Seuss’s outlook is optimistic, however. Although the travelling salesman (who made a large profit by catering to one group’s fervent desire to attain social acceptance and from the other groups no-less fervent desire to exclude them) sums up that “they never will change”, the Sneetches actually do change, and learn to put aside prejudice and stereotypes and live together in harmony.