Sunday, July 10, 2005

Dr. Suess 101

[In a nod to my literary idol and yours, Bil Keane, today's special guest entry was written by Sam, age three months.]

Two thought-provoking tomes have recently come to my attention, and I wanted to share them with you. They are
Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, both by an extremely gifted storyteller named Dr. Suess.

Very early in Green Eggs and Ham, the reader is confronted with the dramatic tension evident in the relationship between the book's two principal characters: a small red-hatted creature named Sam-I-am and the book's narrator, a larger creature whose name we never learn. The narrator declares, apropos of very little, that "[he does] not like that Sam-I-am."

I, for one, was piqued with curiosity. Why such blatant hostility? What dark past haunts these characters? What conflict awaits on the pages to come? With bated breath, I waited for the page to turn.

Sam-I-am, seemingly unfazed by the narrator's animosity, counters with an unexpected question: "Do you like green eggs and ham?" The narrator, without missing a beat, declares "I do not like them, Sam-I-am. I do not like green eggs and ham."

Ever persistent, Sam-I-am suggests that the narrator might like them in a house or with a mouse, but the narrator's resolve holds fast.

As the story progresses, Sam-I-am suggests various venues or dinner companions that may render green eggs and ham more palatable -- a fox, a box, a boat, a goat, etc. -- but the narrator maintains his stance. But the reader becomes aware of something: the narrator has never actually
tried green eggs and ham!

The story comes to an impasse, the likes of which has not been seen on the printed page since The Old Man and the Sea, as the two characters appear to reach a stalemate. Sam-I-am seems to have an endless fund of rhymed suggestions, while the narrator is steadfast in his blind rejection of green eggs and ham.

***SPOILER ALERT***
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Suddenly and inexplicably worn down by Sam-I-am's perseverence, the narrator wearily states that he will try them, adding ominously, "You will see." The illustrated two-page spread that follows this concession is comprised solely of an image of the narrator taking a bite of green eggs and ham, with no accompanying text. And just when the mounting tension is bordering on the unbearable, the page turns and...
Say!
I like green eggs and ham!
I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!
I, for one, was floored by this unexpected turn of events. In the denouement that follows the book's powerful climax, the narrator lists all of the ways in which he would eat green eggs and ham -- from in the rain to on a train -- concluding with a hearty thank you to Sam-I-am. His earlier hostility is clearly a thing of the past.

For obvious reasons, I considered Green Eggs and Ham the best book I'd ever read... that is, until I read Suess's One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, as certain evidence as anyone could need to prove that this Suess is no one-hit wonder.

Despite what you might assume from its title, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish is not a scathing indictment of the homogeneity of America's current two-party political system. Instead, it's a colourful Dadaist romp through an absurd parallel universe.

The fantastical creatures that inhabit this universe bring to mind the mythical beings created by Blake or Yeats, and clearly Suess is indebted to these other great poets. Yet while paying homage to them, he also cleverly subverts them, most obviously in the passage:
This one,
I think,
is called
a Yink.
He likes to wink,
he likes to drink.
This nod, or "wink," if you will, to subversiveness is reflected in the form and structure of One Fish Two Fish. While Green Eggs and Ham is unswervingly faithful to its rigorous rhyming couplets, One Fish Two Fish -- while mostly confining itself to couplets -- occasionally deviates from this form, as evidenced in passages such as:
Look what we found
in the park
in the dark.
We will take him home.
We will call him Clark.
To remain true to its linear narrative, Green Eggs and Ham relies on its single first-person narrator. One Fish Two Fish, on the other hand, initially seems to be told from the perspective of a young girl and boy, but the story's voice frequently shifts to other characters, including Ned (who for unknown reasons seems to be confined to his bed), an unnamed creature with unnaturally large ears, and a tiny creature called a Yop (who apparently likes to hop).

This sophisticated narrative device speaks to the complexity of the subject matter. While Green Eggs and Ham is a riveting morality tale with a neatly and satisfactorily resolved plot, the profoundly absurd meandering of One Fish Two Fish speaks to the book's deceptively simple thesis:
From there to here,
from here to there,
funny things
are everywhere.
They are indeed.

Ultimately, the book's moral ambiguity leaves the reader haunted by unanswered questions: What misfortune has left Ned confined to his bed, forever to be dismayed by the fact that it is too short? What trauma led to the cryptically named "this one's" need to constantly "yell, yell, yell"? And will the illiterate Nook ever find someone to decipher his cookbook for him?

I look forward to reading and reviewing Suess's other works, including Hop on Pop, with its obvious anarchistic leanings, and the sartorial adventures of Fox in Socks.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

That is genius. Thank you.

Exxie said...

Yes...brilliant. Oh my goodness. Hilarious with its faux-pretension. I look forward to more.

Jennifer said...

You've just laid out the thought process that has occurred every evening for the past month straight in my head. And what kind of pet is the wet pet that got as wet as a wet pet can get?

landismom said...

Heh. That is brilliant.

Anonymous said...

"Fox In Socks" is the best Dr. Seuss book of all time. -- Wing Chun

Sven Golly said...

I anxiously await your deconstruction of Horton Hears a Who, my personal favorite.

flipper said...

Wow--awesome. I never really appreciated the metaphysical qualities of Seuss's work, but never again will I look upon such tomes as "Go Dog Go" as merely amusing diversions. Thanks, also, for the "Spoiler Alert." Because of this, I was able to stop reading, run to the local library, check out "Green Eggs and Ham," and read the ending for myself, without prejudicialness, before delving into the analysis. Truly wonderful stuff.

Cap'n Ganch said...

Unrelated: you live in beautiful country.

Related: What I'd like to see next is a Freudian psychoanalytical analysis of the Goofus/Gallant serials in the Guideposts for Kids! magazine. The frequent sticker sheets are fair game and could even be used as a sort of grading scale with the Blue Smiley face indicating a cartoon well-thought out and the Surprised Yellow face indicating a momentary lack of propriety/judgment of the cartoonist.

Anonymous said...

Just wait til you get to "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" ... Seuss is a genius.

TLC said...

Utterly brilliant review, "Sam".
Absolutely wonderful, and looking forward to more.

My children always wanted to know why Ned is confined to his bed as well.

I would like to see a review of Fox in Sox.

Doppelganger said...

Sam's out Mother's Day gift shopping right now. I don't know when he'll be back. He took my credit card and said he'd see me "later" but as he was heading out the door he told me to tell you thanks for the props. He's actually a big fan of Fox in Socks, particularly the ending. Who saw that little power reversal coming?

Ms. Hughes said...

Hi there,

I'm on blogspot too ... with my students. Tomorrow we are going to read Seuss on the grass field during the Big ONE at Two (earthquake drill). I teach in a mini school for the arts in Vancouver ... enjoyed your blog ... I'm off now to find more Seuss-ish stuff. Happy Mother's day ... my son is off with his mentor at the lab being a clever little nerd; God bless'm, eh? :o)
aeh

Christine-Chioma said...

I still love this and think about it often!