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Literary Analysis Of Dr. Seuss

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Autor: reviewessays 31 December 2010

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Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, is perhaps one of the most beloved children's authors of the twentieth century. Although he is most famous as an author of children's books, Geisel was also a political cartoonist, advertisement designer, and film director (Kaplan). He used the power of imagination to produce unforgettable children's books and helped solve the problem of illiteracy among America's children. By using his experiences in life as a foundation for most of his books, Theodor Geisel created a unique writing style that incorporated various elements and techniques, enabling his books to appeal to people of all ages.

The animated life of Theodor Geisel is evident in his literary masterpieces. He was born on March 2, 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts to Theodor and Henrietta Geisel (Ford 14). Geisel grew up speaking German and English, and his fascination with quirky words began at an early age due to his family. For example, his sister, Margaretha, called herself Marnie Ding Ding Guy, and his first creation was the Wynnmph with ears three yards long (Kaplan). During his childhood, Geisel read widely and often - developing his voracious reading habit at an early age. By the time he was six years old, Ted was already reading Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson (Kaplan). However, college education never interested him. Labeled "Least Likely To Succeed" by his fellow classmates at Dartmouth University, Theodor often got in trouble for partying and was forced to resign from the school humor magazine. This gave birth to numerous pseudonyms of Geisel, such as L. Burbank, Thomas Mott Osbourne, Ted Seuss, Seuss, Dr. Seuss, and Theo LeSieg (Hurst). In his adult life, Theodor created various political cartoons for Judge, a humor magazine, and PM, a noted political magazine. The illustrations in these early cartoons foreshadow the quirky illustrations found in his children's books (Kaplan). Geisel turned to writing children's books when creating numerous ads for the popular insecticide, Flit, left him with little to do during the winter months (Hurst). By 1990, Dr. Seuss had written over forty books, two of which were Caldecott Honor books, and won two Academy Awards for his documentaries (Krull 39). Unfortunately, battling glaucoma and cataracts became too much for Theodor; he died on September 24, 1991 in his studio with his toy dog and second wife, Audry, by his side (Kaplan).

During his lifetime, Seuss' family had a major influence on his writing; the sounds and absurdities of German and English spoken in the household were sources of inspiration and influence for many of his works. For example, his peculiar character names, such as Lorax and Thidwick the Moose, came from his childhood experiences at his father's zoo (Kaplan). Growing up during World War I subjected Geisel to anti-German sentiment, isolating him from society. As a result, his family would often plot revenge and practical jokes against their neighbors; these plots generated laughter because they were never actually carried out. The family plots from Seuss' childhood are tell-tale signs of his later works published in his adult life (Kaplan). Besides his immediate family, his first wife, Helen Geisel, was also one of Seuss' literary influences; she was his severest critic and strongest editor (Kaplan). She was instrumental in the creative process and was as much a perfectionist as Seuss (Kaplan). Dr. Seuss' literary influences were not just his family and wife В– his publishers pushed him just as much. Theodor's editor bet him fifty dollars that he could not write a children's book using only fifty words. Taking on the bet, Dr. Seuss took months to write Green Eggs and Ham; the success of this book led to a new division of books called Beginner Books, with Ted appointed as President (Kaplan). Another publisher challenged Seuss to write a story using only a list of words first graders needed to learn. Using 223 words, Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat in 1957 (Krull 40).

Although his family and friends influenced his writing style, his childhood and surroundings gave him inspiration for most of his works. When doing errands or traveling the world, the sights, sounds, and encounters with people were enough to spark a creative idea for one of his books (Kaplan). Dr. Seuss' very first children's book, And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was modeled after his favorite book, The Hole (Kaplan). Moreover, it was based on his childhood in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he remembered the zoo and various parades in the streets (Krull 38). Most of the inspirations for his books come from everyday mishaps. For example, the idea that resulted in Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose came accidentally; Ted was on the phone doodling and found that one of his doodles looked like a moose that had animals nestled on his horns (Ford 64). Similarly, on a train to New York, Seuss was inspired to write The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins; on that train, Ted had noticed a stranger wearing a pompous hat and thought that, if the hat were to blow away, a new hat would grow right out of the stranger's head (Krull 38). Moreover, the idea of Horton Hatches the Egg came to Seuss when a breeze blew sketches around his drawing board, making it look as if an elephant was sitting on a tree (Krull 39). Without the influence of his surroundings and life experiences, Dr. Seuss would not have been able to become the renowned children's author he is today. By using his imagination, Seuss was able to provide extraordinary worlds for his followers to read about.

Dr Seuss' books are mesmerizing and entertaining primarily due to the literary

techniques he uses. As a noted perfectionist, he would work hours on his children's books. He once stated, "The creative process boiled down to two things В– time and sweat (qtd. in Krull 39)." His writing style remained unchanged throughout his lifetime; the way he wrote in general was a fill-in-the-blank approach and used whimsical language coupled with artless drawings (Kaplan). In several of his children's books, Geisel adds more and more tension, building up to the climax only to end in an anticlimactic way. For example, in The Cat in the Hat, suspense increases as the mess the Cat makes becomes unmanageable. The illustrations add to this tension as the children's mother is set to arrive. However, just before she enters the door, the mess is cleaned and sparkling new (Hurst). Although his writing style has remained unchanged in his years of writing, Dr. Seuss was still able to make reading fun and enjoyable to children.

Theodor Geisel was among the first authors to put illustrations equal with text, enabling his readers to follow the action and the story simultaneously (Kaplan). True to his eccentric character and unique perspective, Seuss "wanted to draw things as [he] saw them (Kaplan)." Surprisingly, he had strict guidelines on how to write children's books. There was only one illustration per page and nothing could describe anything pictured. That way, children can work out the story from the illustrations. Furthermore, each pair of interfacing pages must work as an interlocking unit (Kaplan). In addition, the way he draws his characters is unique. He only draws one human face; all his characters are similar except for a few minor adjustments (Hurst). Moreover, they have no race, religion, or gender (Kaplan). Although his characters may seem simplistic, Seuss' illustrations are inimitable.

Sometimes, Ted Seuss Geisel wrote purposely to convey a message; he wanted his messages to be lighthearted, yet serious (Kaplan). Horton Hatches the Egg is one of Geisel's children's books that included a moral: with hard work and diligence, great rewards will come, such as Horton's hard work leading to the hatching of an elephant-bird (Ford 58). Another book, The Sneetches, offers a lesson that discrimination based upon physical characteristics is destructive and hurtful (McCoy). Although Seuss was primarily a children's author, he used his talent to convey his opposition to major issues, such as disarmament, discrimination, and pollution (Kaplan). The Lorax, which symbolized Seuss' anger at pollution and destruction of the environment, was his first children's novel classified as propaganda (Fenkl). To symbolize his response to the race for nuclear arms, Seuss wrote The Butter Battle Book in 1984. According to his secretary, "The Butter Battle Book is the most important contribution Dr. Seuss has made in his many years of giving children something to think about (qtd. in Kaplan)." Furthermore, Geisel wrote You're Only Old Once! to portray his perspective on the medical field and healthcare (Kaplan). When analyzing the numerous works Seuss had written, one can see that satire and humor are found in all of his works, not just his children's books (Hurst).

Theodor Seuss Geisel once stated, "What's wrong with kids having fun reading without being preached at (qtd. in Kaplan)?" He wanted children to enjoy reading without feeling the weight of a sermon; as a result, he was one of the few authors who got away with moralizing. The quirky illustrations and creative wordplay enable his readers to enjoy his books, while at the same time recognize morals (Hurst). Because of his innovative approach to writing books for children, Dr. Seuss has influenced American society immensely. The Oobleck he created in Bartholomew and Oobleck became the green, slimy gunk now seen on popular television networks, such as Nickelodeon (Ford 66). Furthermore, his publishing company, Beginner Books, produced a new series of children's books called the Berenstein Bears, enabling children to enjoy more reading (Kaplan).

Dr. Seuss revolutionized children's literature and instilled in children the desire to read.

According to literary critic Clifton Fadiman, "Theodor Geisel Seuss provided ingenious and uniquely witty solutions to the standing problem of illiteracy among children (qtd. in Kaplan)." Due to various influential figures and profound experiences during his lifetime, as well as expert use of creative literary techniques, Theodor Seuss Geisel's children's books continue to compel readers of all ages В– allowing them to escape into different worlds filled with nonsense.