Probably the most ideological and political children's stories of Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), The Lorax is a story of industrial capitalism gone insane until it destroys the entire natural environment. In fact, capitalism as symbolized by the greedy and corrupt Once-ler, is the villain of the story while hero is the Lorax, who speaks for the forest, skies, water, plants and animals that the system is destroying. Like capitalism in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Once-ler started off small scale, chopping down one Truffula tree and selling the products in a little shop, but eventually his greed becomes an obsession and he builds superhighways and a factory employing 100,000 workers. For the Once-ler, all of this is progress, and he ignores the repeated warnings of the Lorax that the entire environment is dying, and that the birds and fish are becoming extinct. Once-ler only cares about his profits and rising stock prices, however, and only when the last of the Truffula trees are gone and the environment is ruined does he finally realize the evil he has caused. Unfortunately, the damage is done, however, and all he can do is warn the small boy who comes to visit him not to repeat the same mistakes. He presents him with the last Truffula seed and instructs him to plant a new forest. This allegory of industrial capitalism does not really have an optimistic outcome, since industrial civilization simply destroys nature and uses up all natural resources until it fouls the air, soil and water past the point of no return. Whether the boy and his generation will have the ability or even the willingness to repair all the damage and ensure social and economic policies are changed to avoid a repetition of such mistakes is not a question The Lorax can answer.
This grim and pessimistic story begins with the boy walking into a ruined environment where the Once-ler lives alone in the middle of a post-industrial wasteland. Nothing is left to him but an empty factory under a sky filled with smog, and Dr. Seuss compares it to Lake Erie was completely lifeless by 1971, pollution having destroyed it. With the ecology wrecked, "the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows, and no birds ever sing except old crows" (Geisel 1971). From the pictures in the book, the land, buildings and sky are all darkened from the smog and in this blackened environment the Once-ler lives alone in a ruined mansion. Few people ever visit him, not even his relatives, but in return from a small fee he is willing to tell the boy his story. Essentially, the former capitalist magnate lacks any human attachments, and all his relationships were determined by money and exchange rather than moral or emotional concerns. Indeed, his relationship with the natural environment was the same, and he regarded it merely as an inanimate thing to be exploited and used up.
In this sad Street of the Lifted Lorax, he tells the boy of a time when the grass was still green and the Truffula trees still existed. Long ago, Dr. Seuss notes, "the grass was still green, and the pond was still wet, and the clouds were still clean, and the sounds of the Swomer-Swans rang out in space" (Geisel 1971). When he arrived on the scene in a broken-down cart, the Once-ler was hardly a great capitalist but more like an itinerant peddler. He did not stop to marvel long at the beauties and harmonies of nature, though, and his narrow and greedy mind simply began to concoct schemes for profiting from it. Once-ler had been searching all his life for these trees, but when he chops down his first one, he sees the Lorax, who speaks for all the trees -- for nature. "What's that thing you made out of my Truffula tree?" For the Once-ler, who is "crazy with greed," he can makes socks, shirts, carpets and bicycle seat covers from this natural resource (Geisel 1971). He does not understand that the earth is a living organism or that his destruction of the trees is unbalancing the entire ecosystem upon which all life depends, including humans.
Like capitalism as a whole, the Once-ler begins on a very small scale, and simply cannot believe that his actions will do any serious or permanent damage to the environment. Like in the frontier days during the heyday of western expansion, the Truffula trees seemed to be a limitless resource, as did the air, land and water. Perhaps like Thomas Jefferson others at the dawn of the industrial age, he did not imagine that these could ever be used up in 1,000 years. After all, men armed with simple tools like axes could never really cut down all the great forests of a continent. Once-ler took pride in the fact that "in no time at all, I had built a small shop, then I chopped down a Truffula Tree with one chop" (Geisel 1971). Very quickly, though he realized that "here's a chance for the entire Once-ler family to get rich." He invents a Super Ax-Hacker to chop down many trees at once, and then builds a four-lane superhighway from the Instant Roadway Company. He moved from being a small-scale capitalist to one running a giant industrial monopoly, and turned into a megalomaniac "figgering on biggering, and BIGGERING, and BIGGERING, and BIGGERING" (Geisel 1971). Nor does give any thought to the problem of long-term stability or sustainability, only that his profits are increasing every quarter. Nothing the Lorax says or the environmental havoc that his corporation is causing has the slightest effect on his actions until nothing is left at all.
Although the Lorax is correct in his warnings, the Once-ler is only occasionally moved by his protests and pleas, since they conflict with his primary goal of making a profit. Repeatedly, the Lorax comes to the Once-ler stating that "I speak for the trees. I'm going to continue to speak for the trees.," only to be dismissed and ignored. Frequently the Lorax complains that "nobody listens too much, don't you know" and "they say I'm old fashioned and live in the past" (Geisel 1971). This is certainly not true, since he can actually see farther into the future than the Once-ler or any of his fellow capitalists. He knows that the capitalist system of mass production and consumption will soon run into environmental limits that make it unsustainable, but when the Once-ler asks him whether his policy would be to close the mega-factory and put 100,000 people out of work, he offers no real answers. Of course, once the trees are gone, the factory closes anyway and all the jobs are gone, so in this sense the Once-ler's system is completed irrational and short-sighted.
In his prophetic warnings of a catastrophe of Apocalypse, the Lorax is not particularly effective, since his main tactic seems to be constant pleading with the Once-ler and attempting to reason with him. Unfortunately, the Once-ler is not a particularly reasonable or ethical individual, despite his narrow technical and economic skills at wringing maximum profits out of the environment. Obviously, the Lorax is not a violent revolutionary, nor does he even organize a radical reform or protest movement to block the Once-let. Perhaps the system cannot really be changed, but all the Lorax can do is send the birds, animals and fish away until he finally disappears as well. He only left behind a pile of rocks with the word "UNLESS" written on one of them, and the Once-ler explains to the boy that "UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not" (Geisel 1971).
Dr. Seuss was placing his greatest hope on the younger generation of the 1960s and…