5 Dr. Seuss Stories That can Change the World
I discovered Dr. Seuss after my children were born, but I am constantly amazed by the genius of his writings, by how true his messages remain to this day. The main topics of his stories in rhymes are exquisitely written life lessons to be equally taken to heart by children and adults alike.
Here’s a list of 5 of his most wonderful, symbolically rich poems I recommend anyone should read to enrich their knowledge of themselves and the world.
This is the one about discrimination.
In Sneetchville, there are two kinds of Sneetches — a kind with stars on their bellies, and the kind without. Now the ones who are fortunate enough to have the distinctive mark, look down on the others, even though the stars are so teeny-tiny one might think they should not matter at all. It is unclear how they got their stars, but as the poem progresses, we learn that the stars can be removed and put back on at will, should the Sneetches have the financial means to do this.
The stars are the symbol of perceived superiority, although in all fairness the stars do not make them special in any way. Unfairness and equality reflect then all around — much like in the human world where discrimination is learned, the Star-Belly children refuse to play with the Plain-Belly kids.
This tiny star on their bellies, so small that it shouldn’t even be an issue, is in fact a great big deal — and the Sneeches chose it to define their everyday existence.
“Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches-
Had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches-Had none upon thars.
Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.”
Class or body image discrimination can be changed by means of money as the Sneetches did (up to the point they realized it is all futile and concluded “no kind of Sneetch is the best”). The only way to shift religion, sexuality, skin color discrimination, which cannot so easily be changed by money, is to change our mentalities and to teach our children that our differences are our strengths and not our weaknesses.
This one is about being inflexible and proud
“And I’ll prove to YOU,” yelled the South-Going Zax,
“That I can stand here in the prairie of Prax
For fifty-nine years! For I live by a rule
That I learned as a boy back in South-Going School.
Never budge! That’s my rule. Never budge in the least!
Not an inch to the west! Not an inch to the east!
I’ll stay here, not budging! I can and I will
If it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!”
Of course, the world didn’t stand still. The world grew.
In a couple of years, the new highway came through
And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax
And left them there, standing un-budge in their tracks.”
One day in the Prairie of Pax the North-Going Zax and the South-Going Zax met. Each one is very strict on keeping their designated direction to move forward (North and South respectively), so neither will move out of the way to let the other one pass.
Now they stand face to face, each refusing to budge, even if this means “the whole world would stand still”. Which of course does not happen, because things are always evolving. And evolution is equivalent to change and so there can’t be growth without change.
The North-Going Zax and the South-Going Zax are a symbol of being stuck in fixed patterns of thought that fail to account for the unexpected, the unplanned for. Out of pride and failure to compromise they remain still, as the whole world around them moves on.
The nature of all things is to change — from seasons to lives starting and ending every moment of every day, so being willing to see and embrace this will allow for evolution and self-growth.
What was I scared of?
This one is about being terrified of things that are different
“I said I do not fear those pants
With nobody inside them”
I said, and said, and said those words,
I said them but I lied them”
“I never heard such whimpering
And I began to see
That I was just as strange to them
As they were strange to me”
This story is about a pair of pale green pants which strangely enough floats by itself — a scary enough sight for even the bravest of us. So, upon meeting them, the main character, who initially declares his courage out loud, feels ever-growing fear. Symbolically, this is a story about feeling terrified about something so very different from what we know and are used to. The fear is brilliantly portrayed by “a pair of pale green pants with nobody inside them”. The reassuring revelation and the message of the story really is that the floating pair of green pants are equally afraid of the protagonist.
This shows that how we define “different” and “strange” is subjective and stems from personal assumptions.
So, when faced with something new and different, always ponder and take the other’s perspective — what might they feel towards you? This will probably create a common ground of mutual understanding and make things less difficult for both.
Horton Hears a Who
The one about equality and truths and beliefs
“Should I put this speck down?” Horton thought with alarm.
“If I do, these small persons may come to great harm.
I can’t put it down. And I won’t! After all
A person’s a person. No matter how small.”
This is maybe one of the most popular works of Dr. Seuss, so you might know the story of Horton the Elephant who hears a faint noise coming from a small speck of dust. Although no one else can hear it, believes him and he has no palpable evidence of someone actually being there, he truly believes that living creatures are on that speck of dust. And so he takes it upon himself to save them from the life-threatening ignorance of the other Jungle animals.
And because he truly believes that and it’s his belief that “a person’s a person no matter how small”, he then goes to save them against all odds.
There are many layers to the story. One, the fact that everyone is entitled to the same rights, big or small, and this is a lesson in equality applicable across every aspect of society you could imagine.
Then, there is the issue of Horton’s wholehearted belief that someone is living on the speck — it is his intuition saying so, against all other rational, logical or palpable evidence to indicate this.
Then it’s the question of how you can prove knowledge that is hard to prove? Does truth change — at first the other animal’s truth was that Horton was a fool so they persecuted him for it, but then, after he proved them wrong, their truth changes — Horton is not crazy and there are tiny people inhabiting the speck of dust.
Oh, the places you’ll go
This one is about what it takes to succeed in life
There isn’t really one single quote in this poem that would be better than others. I really do believe this is a masterpiece full of metaphors and symbols that would only be understood once you’ve definitely lived some life. Because this is precisely what this poem is about — “The Great Balancing Act” as Dr. Seuss refers to Life.
So, I would say that this admirably wise brief graduation speech is the perfect Dr. Seuss Poem to start with if you haven’t really read anything by him so far. From precious bits of advice on how to tackle success, hardship, friendship, and failure, feelings of depression and feelings of ultimate joy, to the nature of hard choices one will have to make throughout their life, Dr. Seuss really touches one the quintessential moments in life.
“I’m afraid that sometimes
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.”
Dr. Seuss’s messages have the power to change the world because they stand for tolerance, cooperation, compassion, and love for oneself and for the others. Which is just what the world needs right now.