Given that today would be the 106th birthday of Theodore Seuss Geisel-or as most of us know him, Dr. Seuss-it is important to recognize his accomplishments. He has penned and illustrated some of the best-known children’s books worldwide. This includes The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. His books are found all across the country in libraries, classrooms, and playrooms. A great work of his, however, never made it to the limelight. This lesser known work is a beautiful yet simplistic depiction of one of the greatest problems that our culture faces: discrimination due to physical difference.
The Sneetches was the cornerstone story, published in a book along with The Zax, Too Many Daves, and What Was I Scared Of in 1961. It starts out illustrating a society in which the Sneetches-a tall yellow species only of the Seuss variety-find their social standing depending on whether or not they have a little blue star on their bellies. The Sneetches without were looked down upon, the rejects of society who were constantly left out of the most enjoyable social activities.
Enter Sylvester McMonkey McBean-a creature who had heard of the plight of the starless Sneetches, and came to help them. He intends to do this with a machine he created, one that puts stars on the bellies of these Sneetches. For a “very low price,” the starless Sneetches hop into the machine and come out with brand new stars on their bellies. The originally privileged Sneetches are unhappy of the equality that the others had achieved, but Mr. McBean also had an answer for them. For an even steeper price, he tells these Sneetches that stars are no longer in style, and he is able to remove them.
When the inequality is reestablished, the now star-bellied Sneetches want to take their stars back off. All of this results in all of the Sneetches constantly moving through the machine to “fix” their bellies, and ultimately they all end up broke. Sylvester McMonkey McBean laughs to himself as he declares, “They will never learn. No. You cant teach a Sneetch!” Some Sneetches have one star, some two or three, and some none at all. The moral of the story forms when the Sneetches decide it doesn’t matter how many, or if they have stars at all. All the Sneetches become equal.
In our society, of course, the drive to amass ridiculous amounts of serious wealth and be the best is unmistakable. Rather than stars, we have luxury vehicles or breast enhancements. We have a huge consumer culture “machine” that promises to fix us, to make us appear the right way so we maintain our status in society. But at what cost? In Dr. Seuss’ story none of the Sneetches went hungry. None were struggling to survive. Our culture, however, is riddled with poverty and institutionalized discrimination that keeps people from getting their bare essentials.
It is rather curious that this story never became a popular one within our culture, as it seems to be the message that we all need to be embracing. Money and consumer driven culture is not the answer to solving the problems of social inequality. Those who grow up in poverty think that getting a nice car, or the clothes they see celebrities wear on TV is the answer to finding social status-even if they have to obtain it illegally. We wonder why there is so much crime in areas of poverty, but then we ignore the fact that our culture sees equality in terms of image, of property.
The Sneetches show us that this is not the way, that looking like those at the upper echelon of society does not make us equal. Those at the top will continuously use their material advantage to continue to look different than those on the bottom. The key is discrediting the validity and legitimacy of our physical difference as a status marker. When we all realize we are all just humans-as they were all just Sneetches-and celebrate our differences rather than using them negatively against one another, everyone will be able to obtain a decent standard of living.
Dr. Seuss has given so much to our children over the years, and I hope this continues. Perhaps we should celebrate not only the birth of this amazing individual, but also the strides we could take to achieve real equality, by putting a copy of The Sneetches and Other Stories next to each copy of The Cat and the Hat.
All straight facts (such as publishing dates, etc) are pulled from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sneeches