March 14, 2008

"A person's a person, no matter how small."

Is "Horton Hears a Who" about abortion?

41 comments:

Synova said...

I've often thought so.

Or at least about small children. I don't know if Dr. Seuss would have considered abortion something to address.

Consider also Sneeches on Beaches, which is clearly about racism and segregation and opposing those. The man *did* write social commentary.

(I'll go read the link now.)

titusgrandjete said...

It wouldn't surprise me.

I always thought Susie Who was a little slutty.

Synova said...

I can see how Dr. Seuss's widow might not like the movie made into a political event, but I think she protests too much, or those quoting her do, when she claims her husband wasn't political.

How about the Hydrax and the trees? That was made into a very nice little pro-environment propaganda film that played frequently when I was a kid.

Moondog said...

Hydrax is a cookie

George said...

He cared about all the Little Cats, A down through Z.

Hydrox R.I.P.

Revenant said...

I think you mean Lorax. But yeah, that movie WAS on TV a lot.

Anyone who thinks Seuss didn't get political should read "Dr. Seuss Goes to War", a collection of all his WW2 cartoons. It is very interesting, especially if (like basically everyone under 40) you think of him simply as a creator of children's cartoon books.

Synova said...

Lorax, thanks. :-)

B said...

(Rev - you got to the politcal parts before I did, but thank you.)

Audrey Geisel is allowed to support whoever she likes - and pro-life supporters have a first amendment right to recommend Horton Hears a Who be placed in every Planned Parenthood Waiting Room - where for years I have believed it would do much good - whether or not that is what the author or his heirs say was intended.

Drop the hypocrisy people, especially Law Professors who's very existence is predicated on finding any and every possible implied meaning of any thing said or written.

When people are upset that conservatives quote Martin Luther King for their political purposes, I understand their frustration. In my case, I'm sick and tired of Biblical illiterates like Barak Obama referencing "an obscure passage in Romans" as though they have an understanding of the Bible.

But he has a right to be ignorant of his choice. And I'll defend his right as an American to be an idiot speaking about things he obviously doesn't understand. And I will use my right as an American to point out that a man that doesn't understand something that he claims he has studied for over 20 years is not someone you can trust as President of the United States.

Middle Class Guy said...

Oh my. Now I have ot go through all the Seuss books to see if they contain political messages and then determine if they are Con, Lib, or anything in between.

I may even find the secret CIA code to unlock the Domino Conspriacy that some fool here kept commenting on. Is my life in danger? Will I be hunted down by the paramiltary Domino players?

campy said...

Will I be hunted down by the paramiltary Domino players?

They'll round you up in 30 minutes or less, or your torture is free.

Tim said...

"Is "Horton Hears a Who" about abortion?"

Well, let's hope so. Something needs to give the pro-abortion rights advocates cognitive dissonance.

John K. said...

Good constitutional textualists should understand that the objective meaning of a text is not determined and its application is not limited by the intent of the author(s).

TROBlog said...

Not to me . . . it's a funny story. I wish people would just leave things alone sometimes.

Joan said...

ZoBell says he's never discussed such matters with her or her late husband, and that the Geisels never wanted Dr. Seuss characters used to advance any political purpose.

Never mind The Lorax, what about The Butter Battle Book? I can't imagine a more stupid text, even one aimed at children. What kind of maroon writes a book about the arms race for kids?

Come to think of it, I can't think which volume irritates me more, The Lorax or TBBB. Both have a view of humanity that is overwhelmingly bleak, and the expectation that things are always getting worse, not better. It's hard to reconcile that worldview with the inspired silliness of The Cat in the Hat or the simple spiritual message of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Synova said...

Is the butter battle book the one that goes... the tweedle beetles battle with their paddles in a puddle in a bottle on a poodle eating noodles?

Or is it a different one?

I did always like that one just because it was so fun to read.

Horton Hatches an Egg is sort of interesting too. I'm not sure if the message is supposed to be telling women to stay home with their children or just a warning that if other people raise your kids, they will resemble the people who raised them.

Wurly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Middle Class Guy said...

Some times a story is just a story.

Eli Blake said...

He was certainly political in his political cartoons that he drew for the left wing magazine PM in New York between 1941-1943.

Virtually all of them have something to do with World War II. He was strongly an advocate for war, even in early 1941 when isolationism (especially through the America First Committee and Charles Lindbergh) was rampant.

they can be linked to from here.

The purpose and goal of a good cartoonist (or a good writer for that matter) is not to steer a middle line and never say something that might be taken as controversial, it is rather to make the point in a captivating and entertaining way so that when people read it they won't immediately have an angry reaction, but instead incorporate the lesson into their psyches.

Of course in the case of Mr. Geisel, it is sometimes difficult to tell exactly when he is injecting commentary and when he is just being plain silly.

But Susie Who has clearly already been born, so his definition of 'person' does not seem to imply 'fetus.'

Synova said...

What I wonder is if, when the story was written, abortion was in the public consciousness at all. It may not have been.

But even so... Horton Hears a Who is certainly about Horton's belief that real people were on that speck of dust and his absolute refusal to budge on that although absolutely everyone else was equally certain that his belief was foolish. Not only that, but that they tried to lose or destroy the dust speck and he suffered a great deal to do what was right.

It wasn't a baby giving a belch putting the total volume of life noise high enough so that everyone could hear and had to admit Horton was right, saying that baby was born and not a fetus, when the whole Who society was made up of adults and children and elderly. All ages.

Again, even the smallest person made a difference so it may have been meant as a story about small children and how much they matter.

But the ages of the Whos, which ran from nothing to very old, doesn't seem to support an argument that the story was not meant to be about abortion.

If abortion was an issue when the book was written I almost can't see how the author could have avoided seeing the parallel between people so small they can't be seen or heard (and surly Ann would agree that the little dust speck looks like an ova) considering that he did write social commentary and often included messages in his children's books. In which case, if he *didn't* want to allow the reading of "A person's a person, no matter how small" to be seen as possibly applying to life before it could even be detected... well, I'm sure he could have fixed that.

Chip Ahoy said...

I thought maybe there was a nut loose in the theater or something," says Karl ZoBell

There were nuts loose in the theater, Karl. Those would be the same people who complain they can no longer turn on the television nowadays without having their children's childhoods ruined just by having on the nightly news.

This has to be something like the Right's answer to Code Pink, that is to say, nuts of another flavor.

Revenant said...

The book was written in 1954. It seems a lot more likely that Horton Hears a Who was another metaphor for tolerance -- a common theme in Seuss's books. Abortion wasn't even on the public radar at the time.

The Whos make their voice heard by acting together to get the attention of the powerful. I think the obvious metaphors there have nothing to do with abortion.

Michael_H said...

It's just a childrens' story, for crying out loud; just a children's story.

Crimminey, next someone will theorize that Curious George is about bisexuality.

Michael_H said...

Although, I am suspicious about The Cat In The Hat. The way I see it, The Cat in the Hat is a hard-hitting novel of prose and poetry in which the author re-examines the dynamic rhyming schemes and bold imagery of some of his earlier works, most notably "Green Eggs And Ham," "If I Ran The Zoo," and "Why Can't I Shower With Mommy?" In this novel, Theodore Geisel, writing under the pseudonym Dr. Seuss, pays homage to the great Dr. Sigmund Freud in a nightmarish fantasy of a renegade feline helping two young children understand their own frustrated sexuality.

The story opens with two youngsters, a brother and a sister, abandoned by their mother, staring mournfully through the window of their single-family dwelling. In the foreground, a large tree/phallic symbol dances wildly in the wind, taunting the children and encouraging them to succumb to the sexual yearnings they undoubtedly feel for each other. Even to the most unlearned reader, the blatant references to the incestuous relationship the two share set the tone for Seuss' probing examination of the satisfaction of primitive needs. The Cat proceeds to charm the wary youths into engaging in what he so innocently refers to as "tricks." At this point, the fish, an obvious Christ figure who represents the prevailing Christian morality, attempts to warn the children, and thus, in effect, warns all of humanity of the dangers associated with the unleashing of the primal urges. In response to this, the cat proceeds to balance the aquatic naysayer on the end of his umbrella, essentially saying, "Down with morality; down with God!"

After pooh-poohing the righteous rantings of the waterlogged Christ figure, the Cat begins to juggle several icons of Western culture, most notably two books, representing the Old and New Testaments, and a saucer of lactal fluid, an ironic reference to maternal loss the two children experienced when their mother abandoned them "for the afternoon." Our heroic Id adds to this bold gesture a rake and a toy man, and thus completes the Oedipal triangle.

Later in the novel, Seuss introduces the proverbial Pandora's box, a large red crate out of which the Id releases Thing One, or Freud's concept of Ego, the division of the psyche that serves as the conscious mediator between the person and reality, and Thing Two, the Superego which functions to reward and punish through a system of moral attitudes, conscience, and guilt. Referring to this box, the Cat says, "Now look at this trick. Take a look!" In this, Dr. Seuss uses the children as a brilliant metaphor for the reader, and asks the reader to re-examine his own inner self.

The children, unable to control the Id, Ego, and Superego allow these creatures to run free and mess up the house, or more symbolically, control their lives. This rampage continues until the fish, or Christ symbol, warns that the mother is returning to reinstate the Oedipal triangle that existed before her abandonment of the children. At this point, Seuss introduces a many-armed cleaning device which represents the psychoanalytic couch, which proceeds to put the two youngsters' lives back in order.

With powerful simplicity, clarity, and drama, Seuss reduces Freud's concepts on the dynamics of the human psyche to an easily understood gesture. Mr. Seuss' poetry and choice of words is equally impressive and serves as a splendid counterpart to his bold symbolism. In all, his writing style is quick and fluid, making _The Cat in the Hat_ impossible to put down. While this novel is only 61 pages in length, and one can read it in five minutes or less, it is not until after multiple readings that the genius of this modern-day master becomes apparent.

Or maybe it's just a very nice children's story.

Synova said...

"The book was written in 1954. It seems a lot more likely that Horton Hears a Who was another metaphor for tolerance -- a common theme in Seuss's books. Abortion wasn't even on the public radar at the time."

Thanks. :)

Synova said...

When I was a kid I *hated* Cat in the Hat.

It's awful.

He is chaotic. I *hated* chaos. I *hated* the idea of someone else getting me in trouble and not being able to stop them. The children were powerless.

I really hated Cat in the Hat.

Joan said...

Synova: Is the butter battle book the one that goes... the tweedle beetles battle with their paddles in a puddle in a bottle on a poodle eating noodles?

No, the Tweedle beetles battling in the puddle in the bottle with the paddles on the poodle eating noodles was quite near the end of Fox in Sox, the tongue-twister book.

The Butter Battle Book is about neighboring countries who create more and more powerful weapons to annihilate each other because one eats their bread butter-side up, the other, butter-side down. In the end, both countries have developed doomsday devices which will kill everyone, and the book ends with both sides ready to drop the bombs. Will they, or won't they?

Yuck.

George said...

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T is definitely about evil piano teachers who ruin valuable afterschool playtime. What a scary movie!

Geisel was a mystery guest on 'To Tell the Truth' when the 'The Cat in the Hat' was published, probably in 1957. No one, not even the inimitable highly lacquered Kitty Carlisle, guessed his identity. As of 2000, that book alone has sold 7.2 million copies in the US. His first book "To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street" was rejected by as many as 30 publishers. His estate earns $10M+ annually, accd. to Forbes.

Harsh Pencil said...

My hat is old,
My teeth are gold,
I have a bird I like to hold.
My shoe is off,
My foot is cold.

My shoe is off,
My foot is cold.
I have a bird I like to hold.
My hat is old,
My teeth are gold.

And now my story is all told.

Trooper York said...

"Crimminey, next someone will theorize that Curious George is about bisexuality"

Actually that is Bi-curious George which is the new movie staring George Michael which will be out this fall.

chickenlittle said...

Given the the date 1954 and the artist, the story could well be a metaphor for the birth of any new idea surrounded by smothering, squelching conformity.

But how would I know, I wasn't even conceived yet.

cardeblu said...

It's about abortion?! Nah....

I will say, tho, that ever since seeing that cartoon as a little girl, whenever a dandelion seed, cottonwood seed, or other ball of fluff floats by, I do listen carefully for any sound of "We are here; We are here; We are here!!"

;)

Kirby Olson said...

I think Suess sued an anti-abortion group so that it would stop using his line. This is buried deep in the neural history, but someone with about ten minutes could google Suess, sued, anti-abortion, and find lots, I would guess.

sandyshoes said...

@synova: I felt/feel exactly the same way about The Cat in the Hat. Made me anxious, as a little one.

Re: Horton Hears -- well, sometimes a Who is just a Who.

Still, it's good that some anti-choice folks are making a fuss at the opening of this children's movie. Because kids really need to quit having abortions, doncha know.

Sigh.

Middle Class Guy said...

Mr. Spitzer: You are an elephant?

Whorton: I'm no ordinary elephant, Mr. Spitzer, I am the elephant in the room, so to speak.

Mr. Spitzer: I need a new place. A room. Someplace private and historic.

Whorton: I have just the place Mr. Spitzer. It is in the Mayflower Hotel. It has everything you need, including hot and cold running whores.

Mr. Spitzer: Iws thy why you are called Whorton.

Whorton: Of course.

Mr. Spitzer: How much?

Whorton: 4300 dollars an hour plus the cost of the room and a train ticket.

Mr. Spitzer: Book it Whorton.

(From Whorton hears a Putz. 2008. Emperors VIP productions.)

Synova said...

"Because kids really need to quit having abortions, doncha know."

How is that different from any other social issue with which children have nothing to do because they are children?

Because kids really need to quit driving their SUV's to save the polar bears, doncha know.

blake said...

For creepy kids' books, The Giving Tree was always the one that disturbed me the most.

sandyshoes said...

"How is that different from any other social issue with which children have nothing to do because they are children?

Because kids really need to quit driving their SUV's to save the polar bears, doncha know."

The difference is the use of a children's movie as a protest vehicle. I don't recall news of any global warming protesters at the opening of Happy Feet.

George said...

In the movie, the Who mayor has 97 children, and the villain has but one.

Synova said...

Captain Planet, he's our hero. Gonna take pollution down to zero.

Yeah...

Oh, not a *movie*... got it.

sandyshoes said...

Hm. Maybe I should've put "protesters" in capital letters.

Julie said...

Things can most certainly be viewed in different matters. However, I have been working on my Dr. Seuss paper for approximately 6 months and have finished it only two nights ago. In my opinion, abortion has nothing to do with Horton and the Whos.

"Some times a story is just a story."

A story is not just a story in Dr. Seuss' case. He has created a new and unique way of getting his political message across. The whole point of Seuss stories is to raise children with the correct political mind sets. Yertle the Turtle was meant to criticize dictatorships, The Lorax is rather obvious, The Butter Battle Book is about the Cold War and the ridiculous danger of it, and Horton Hears a Who is about racial discrimination and minority persecution. Nothing about abortion there. In fact, it was written right after Seuss' visit to Japan and was mainly about the help the US (Horton) was providing for the Japanese (Whos).