I did not read much Dr. Seuss as a child, so it has only been since I’ve had children of my own that I’ve really been exposed to his stories. I am both pleased and surprised to see that, concealed within the fanciful illustrations and anapestic tetrameter, he covers some pretty heady subject matter. Beyond the playful mischief of The Cat in the Hat, Seuss delves into topics such as equality, racism, and the environment. And I appreciate that these are powerful tools for teaching these concepts to children.
But for me, Yertle the Turtle carries the most powerful message of them all — that sometimes those in positions of authority go too far, and the importance of the individual in overthrowing a government. Some may disagree and say that I’m reading too much into the story of a megalomaniacal King Yertle who forces his subjects to use their own bodies to elevate his throne and the lowly turtle named Mack at the bottom of the stack who has the courage to question the king’s authority to do so. Whether Yertle’s action are supposed to symbolize absolute despotism, or simply the evils of taxation, the result is the same: his government is oppressive and unjust. Whether Mack’s actions are supposed to symbolize civil disobedience, or inciting a full-blown revolution, the outcome is the same: his government is toppled and his fellow turtles are set free to live their lives as they see fit. The moral of this story is clear to the kid reading it (or having it read to them): Yertle bad, Mack good.
I don’t know about you, but I definitely want to raise my children to be Macks instead of Yertles.