Dr. Seuss stopped drawing for PM in 1943, and went on to join the army as a captain, where he created propaganda films while working under Frank Capra. He returned to creating children’s books following the war, and his classic 1954 book Horton Hears a Who! is seen by many as both an apology and an allegory of the American occupation of Japan. In it, a big-hearted elephant teaches youngsters that “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”
Horton Hears a Who! is far from the only one of Dr. Seuss’s books that include a political and social message, according to a number of historians. “He had some faith in kids,” Minear says.
If you go back and re-read some of his most famous books through this lens, you’ll find discreet appeals to the nation’s most tender and malleable minds, promoting tolerance, resistance, and awareness.
Dr. Seuss revealed some of these messages outright, calling The Cat in the Hat
“a revolt against authority.” But many of stories’ undercurrents are debated, others buried in edits.
“Yertle the Turtle, when Dr. Seuss first drew it, had a Hitler mustache,” says Minear. The mustache didn’t make it to print, but the 1958 storybook, centered around the rise of a power-hungry turtle, distills the perils of fascism into their most fundamental terms.
Likewise The Sneetches and Other Stories (1953), named for yellow creatures—some born with stars on their bellies, some without—cautions against racial prejudice. It’s no stretch of the imagination to connect their patches with those worn by Jews during the Holocaust. “That wasn’t the Star of David, but that’s the issue behind it,” says Minear.