A Modern Look at Dr. Seuss
Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as his pen name Dr. Seuss, has been a prominent author in children’s literature for decades. He has written a variety of classics, such as The Cat in the Hat, that have become a staple for many when reminiscing about their childhood. Many of his books still find themselves on the shelves of children’s libraries globally, but as of early March, Seuss’s books have come under the public’s scrutiny for questionable images that have been widely deemed as racist.
On March 2nd, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the prime distributor of Seuss’s books, made the announcement that they would cease publishing several of the famed author’s books. The books in question were If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer. In a statement to CNN, Dr. Seuss Enterprises stated, “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.” According to their statement to CNN, this decision had been planned for months prior.
Many critics of Seuss have called attention to imagery in his works that emulate stereotypes or promote white supremacy. Books such as And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, and If I Ran the Zoo, depict images of white individuals wielding weapons over minorities. Asian and Black people were primarily targeted in Seuss’s books, in which he depicted them with racist, inaccurate physical stereotypes. According to CNN, Seuss also referred to the characters in a derogatory manner; in If I Ran the Zoo, he described Asian characters as “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant” from “countries no one can spell”. According to NBC News, other modern writers, such as Philip Nel, have criticized The Cat in the Hat, arguing that the titular character is based on blackface and anti-Black stereotypes.
The discontinuation of these titles sparked controversy on several social media platforms, most prominently Twitter. Some critics of this decision have claimed that the pulling of Dr. Seuss’s literature is a product of cancel culture; Congressman Kevin McCarty made a statement on Twitter with Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham in hand, saying he still enjoyed Dr. Seuss’s books regardless of newfound criticism. Others on the social media platform agreed with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, stating that the books have no comfortable place in modern-day society due to its content. President Biden chose to omit mentions of Dr. Seuss from Read Across America Day in light of the ongoing conversation about Dr. Seuss’s works.
The criticism of Dr. Seuss has recently been acknowledged as a smaller part of a larger criticism of the lack of positive representation of minorities in literature and media. According to NBC News, a multitude of teachers and parents have expressed a desire to broaden the variety of children’s literature to include more works written by or including people of color. With these changes underway, many hope to create a more inclusive and tolerant future.