Dr. Seuss Day was observed on March 2 to commemorate the birthday of one of the most prolific writers of children’s literature.
Despite creating iconic characters such as the Grinch and Horton, Dr. Seuss’ life is said to have had some difficulties. With more time on their hands, self-isolated social media users have made startling discoveries about Dr. Seuss’ legacy.
Dr. Seuss is being chastised for alleged racism in his works behind the rhymes and pictures. There are also allegations that he abused and cheated on his first wife. Is Dr. Seuss really like this? According to some critical research into his work.
Dr. Seuss Was He Racist?
Theodor Seuss Geisel (born March 2, 1904) was a prolific children’s author, political cartoonist, illustrator, poet, and filmmaker.
Reading movements celebrate Dr. Seuss’ works, but others criticize him for his portrayal of people of color. As a result of these allegations, many reading advocacy organizations have distanced themselves from the author.
The cartoons Geisel created in his early career are particularly problematic for depicting non-white characters as racist stereotypes. Taking a closer look at some of his work, from the depiction of an Asian character with two lines for eyes to African characters colored pitch-black and wearing grass skirts, social media users are shocked that the author whose works they grew up created these specific comics.
Several literary theorists have studied his works, most recently in Research on Diversity in Youth Literature (RDYL).
According to the study, only about 2% of the over 2,000 characters created by Seuss over his 70-year career are people of color.
According to one account, Geisel once performed in a minstrel show in college while dressed in blackface. Previous research into Seuss’ works has linked Cat in the Hat to historical blackface minstrelsy.
It has been argued that the author, who was born in Massachusetts, was a product of his time. Politically outspoken, a staunch supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and shaped by his experiences during the Great Depression and World War II, Seuss’ works reflected the mood of the time. And racist stereotypes of people of color were prevalent in the media at the time.
So, you could argue that Geisel didn’t know any better at first. However, he learned and adapted his work to reflect current social movements.
And, even though his early cartoons were admittedly racist, Seuss fans emphasize the tolerance and acceptance themes in his children’s works, such as Horton Hears a Who!
His later works are seen as an evolution of his preaching inclusion beliefs.
Perhaps Dr. Seuss’ evolving beliefs and learning curve were reflected in changes he made to his characters in a reprint of his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. He changed the character’s name from “Chinaman” to “Chinese Man” and stopped portraying him as having yellow skin.
Ted Owens, Geisel’s great-nephew, has become the most vocal defender of Dr. Seuss since the author’s death from cancer on September 24, 1991.
According to Owens, changing the art and text for Mulberry Street demonstrated that “art and humanity are always evolving.”
The recent online debate about Dr. Seuss has prompted many to wonder whether the children’s author had an inherent racial bias. These people are understandably concerned about Dr. Seuss’s growing influence on children’s education.
Several literary organizations and teachers, however, have repeatedly assured the public that his stories have become tools for teaching literary devices and encouraging critical thinking in children.
Dr. Seuss was Abusive to His Wife
In 1927, Theodore Geisel married beloved children’s author Helen Palmer for the first time. A look at Dr. Seuss’ life reveals that he wasn’t the best husband for Palmer when she needed him the most.
Palmer battled health issues, including cancer, for the last 13 years of her life. Geisel allegedly began an affair with Audrey Stone Dimond at the time.
While there is no evidence that Geisel was physically abusive to Palmer, it has been suggested that his affair subjected her to emotional abuse. Palmer, who was heartbroken by his infidelity, allegedly committed suicide by overdosing on barbiturates.
On October 23, 1967, she committed suicide, leaving behind a suicide note addressed to her husband. She told Geisel in her letter that she couldn’t imagine her life without him.
A year after Palmer’s death, Geisel married Dimond. He had no children, but Dimond had children from a previous relationship.