Seuss and WWII the Political Themes Exposed Term Paper

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Seuss and WWII

The political themes exposed in the WWII political cartoons of Dr. Seuss, or Theodor Seuss Geisel, influenced a number of his later works of children's literature.

Seuss' Editorial Cartoons in WWII

PM Magazine

Seuss and Japanese-Americans

First PM Magazine Cartoon, Virgino Gayda

May 19, 1941 Hitler Cartoon

July 16, 1941 Isolationist Cartoon

F. The Influence of Seuss' Editorial Cartoons

Political Aspects of Seuss' Children's Literature

Recreation of PM Magazine Characters in Children's Literature

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories and Totalitarianism

The Sneetches and Other Stories and Tolerance and Racism

The Butter Battle Book and the Cold War

E. Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now! And Richard Nixon

F. The Influence of the Political and Social Content of Seuss' Children's Literature



The political themes exposed in the WWII political cartoons of Dr. Seuss, or Theodor Seuss Geisel, influenced a number of his later works of children's literature. Known primarily for his children's books, Seuss wrote a series of over 400 political cartoons for PM Magazine that explored a variety of subjects, including Hitler, Fascist Italian publicist Virgino Gayda and Mussolini and fascism, American Isolationism, and racism. May of these themes were later explored in his children's books, including Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!, The Butter Battle Book, The Sneetches and Other Stories, and Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories.

Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now! reveals Seuss' feelings that President Nixon should resign, while The Butter Battle Book clearly shows that the political and social conscience that Seuss honed during his time at PM Magazine, was active well into his old age. In his children's book, The Sneetches and Other Stories, Seuss again expanded on the theme of tolerance and the attacks on racism that he incorporated into many of his editorial cartoons from PM Magazine. Similarly, Seuss's Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories is deeply reminiscent of the dislike of fascism and totalitarianism seen in his PM Magazine cartoons. Overall, Seuss' contributions to the political landscape, while commonly overlooked in favor of his contributions to children's literature, were significant and important in shaping public opinion, both in an overt form seen in his editorial cartoons, and in the more subtle political messages seen in his children's books.

To most of the world, Dr. Seuss is best known for his tremendous impact on children's literature. In his lifetime, he wrote 44 children's books that were translated into over 15 languages and sold over 200 million copies in total. He is best known to millions around the world as a man who wrote whimsical and catchy children's books, including The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Green Eggs and Ham, Oh, the Places You'll Go, Fox in Socks, and The Cat in the Hat. Seuss was awarded two Academy awards, two Emmy awards, a Peabody award and the Pulitzer Prize (Dr. Seuss Enterprises). As a children's author, Seuss' influence has been tremendous and long-lasting, with Hollywood adapting The Grinch who Stole Christmas and Cat in the Hat into major motion pictures starring Jim Carrey and Mike Myers, respectively. One of the most famous characteristics of Seuss' children's literature is his masterful and almost hypnotic use of rhythmic, rhyming prose such as anapestic tetrameter in his children's works (Wikipedia).

While his success in children's books is clearly remarkable, Dr. Seuss' life and career were far more complex than is suggested by the common perception of his as only a children's author. Dr. Seuss was born Theodor Seuss Geisel, March 2, 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts. As a shy child, he learned a love of rhyme and meter from his mother (Weidt and Maguire). Later, he attended Dartmouth College and became editor-in-chief of the school's humor magazine Jack-O-Lantern. He was soon kicked off the magazine for violating the schools drinking policy, but began to contribute cartoons under the penname of Seuss, which was both his middle name and his mother's maiden name. Seuss then went on to Oxford but soon dropped out of school due to boredom. There he met his first wife, Helen Palmer. Seuss returned to the United States and began working as a cartoonist, writing for the Saturday Evening Post, and creating advertising campaigns for Standard oil for close to 15 years (Dr. Seuss Enterprises; Wikipedia).

Seuss' career shifted with the advent of WWII, as he began to write weekly political cartoons for the liberal PM Magazine. Seuss was too old to be accepted for the draft, but wanting to help with the war effort, he worked making training films for the U.S. Army. He continued illustrating for magazines like Judge, Vanity Fair and Life during this period (Dr. Seuss Enterprises).

Seuss began his career in children's literature when Viking Press offered him a chance to illustrate a children's book called Banners. The book was a flop, but Seuss' illustrations won high praise, and his career in children's literature was born. He married Audry Stone Geisel after his first wife died in 1967, who now acts as president of Dr. Seuss Enterprises (Dr. Seuss Enterprises). Seuss died in on September 21, 1991, after an illness of several months (MacDonald).

Seuss' Editorial Cartoons in WWII

Seuss' political involvement, in the form of numerous political cartoons created during WWII that is perhaps one of the most interesting and less known aspects of his career in literature. As WWII began, Seuss's opposition to fascism and his support of the American war effort spurred him to begin to express his political ideas through his illustrations. In all, Seuss drew over 400 political cartoons in four years for PM Magazine, and created a series of war bonds "cartoons" that appeared an a wide number of newspapers across the United States (Minear; Wikipedia).

The large majority of Seuss' cartoons were published in PM Magazine, a leading liberal publication backed by Marshal Field III. Seuss' collaboration with the magazine began in early 1941, when "haunted by the war in Europe" (Morgan, p. 100), Seuss showed his friend Zinny Vanderlip Schoales an editorial cartoon that he had drawn. Schoales took Seuss' cartoon to Ralph Ingersoll, who had launched PM Magazine, and Seuss soon became a regular contributor (Morgan). PM Magazine published works by Crockett Johnson, Lillian Hellman and James Thurber, and was outspoken in its political theme, and contained no advertisements (Milnear, Geisel and Spiegelman).

Many of Seuss' cartoons clearly oppose the viciousness of leaders like Hitler and Mussolini. In particular, his early cartoons showed a passionate opposition to fascism, even before the United States officially entered WWII. His depictions of Japan characterized the nation with a character with a sneering grin and slanted eyes. In his cartoons, he also brought attention to the beginnings of the Holocaust, and he also objected to discrimination against Jews and blacks (Wikipedia). His 1942 campaign against the ideas of anti-Semitic Catholic Pries Father Coughlin was largely influential in discrediting the priest (Milnear, Geisel and Spiegelman).

Despite the generally liberal leanings of many of his cartoons, a segment of Seuss' cartoons during WWII depicted Japanese-Americans as traitors. One of these cartoons appeared a day before the internment of Japanese-Americans in the Untied States. Understandably, these cartoons have disturbed many people (Wikipedia). It is clear, however, that these cartoons can be seen as reflections of the prevailing political attitudes of the times. Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps in a period of political fear and paranoia, and a great number of Americans supported such internments. As such, Seuss' cartoons that often depicted Japanese-Americans as traitorous, while clearly unacceptable today, is a clear reflection of the political climate of the day, and Seuss' interpretation of supporting the American war effort. These cartoons have "struck many readers as a strange moral blind spot in a generally idealistic man" (Wikipedia).

Seuss' first political cartoon in PM Magazine was published on January 30, 1941. It was an attack on Fascist Italian publicist Virgino Gayda and Mussolini (Available online at ( cartoon depicts a pompous writer sitting in front of an oversized typewriter, with keys askew and the typewriter clearly about to break down. Springs are exposed, and steam seems to be escaping from the machine. A piece of paper from the typewriter becomes a banner above the machine, which reads: "Virginio Gayda says." The banner is held up by a scruffy, chubby male cupid or angel who is holding up his hand in a disdainful, stop gesture. A small bird is caught in midair by one of the typewriter's noxious bursts of steam. In the cartoon, Seuss is clearly characterizing Gayda's writing as full of obnoxious rhetoric and wind (symbolized by the steam from the typewriter), and attempting to discredit both the writer Gayda and the cause that he is writing in support of, Mussolini's fascist regime.

Seuss' editorial cartoons often portrayed America's opponents in an unflattering light. An editorial cartoon published in PM Magazine on May 19, 1941 depicts the nations of Europe as being milked by Adolph Hitler. The cartoon depicts Hitler as running a dairy…

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