The truth is, no matter how much you love his books, Dr. Seuss had a misguided approach to teaching life lessons about tolerance, individuality, and standing up for what you believe in. Many of the most beloved Dr. Seuss stories, that have been read to generations of children, are actually peppered with problematic subtext:
The Sneetches was originally anti-Semitic until Random House republished it in 1961, and still the rewrite clearly promotes conformity as a solution to oppression. Even the fun-loving Cat in the Hat is based on minstrelsy blackface performances, in which Dr. Seuss actively participated. Tons of Dr Seuss illustrations, especially the ones in If I Ran the Zoo perpetuate offensive stereotypes, from Chinese characters with bright yellow skin, to African characters wearing grass skirts, and Arab characters riding camels. Nevertheless, because Dr. Seuss and his books were a product of their time, and because publishers have already edited out as much text and illustrations as possible while still preserving the integrity of his work, children today continue to read these books. That is why it’s so important to reclaim the narrative, to read Dr. Seuss books in such a way that their lessons are no longer just a product of Dr. Seuss’ time.
A Rereading of Green Eggs and Ham
Green Eggs and Ham is meant to encourage children to be open-minded and adventurous. But we can also use Green Eggs and Ham to specifically talk about the LGBT experience. It’s a fitting metaphor because although Green Eggs and Ham seems like an unusual dish, it’s actually a perfectly normal breakfast that just so happens to be a different color.
The plot of Green Eggs and Ham revolves around the character Sam-I-am asking his unnamed friend if he likes Green Eggs and Ham. Upon being questioned, the friend immediately gets defensive, and blatantly rejects the plate of food offered to him without a second thought.
If the plate of Green Eggs and Ham is a symbol of queerness, then Sam-I-am is unfairly coercing his friend to come out of the closet. The friend is too irritated to entertain Sam-I-am’s incessant questioning, because he had barged in on him while he was quietly reading to himself in his comfortable chair. Sam-I-am not only disrupted his friend’s literal and figurative comfort zone, but also his journey of self-discovery. Throughout their entire exchange, not a single one of the friend’s comments or mannerisms suggest that he is willing or comfortable with trying the Green Eggs and Ham, or to come out for the time being.
Yet Sam-I-am continues to pester his friend, who dismissively closes his eyes, turns his back away, and repeatedly insists, “I do not like Green Eggs and Ham!”
Sam-I-am presents conditions upon which the Green Eggs and Ham might be appealing to his friend, for example, eating it “here or there or anywhere, in a box or with a fox, in a house or with a mouse.” As toxic people tend to do when forcing others to out themselves, Sam-I-am brings up several compelling advantages: the friend won’t have to hide his true self from society any longer (he can be himself “here or there or anywhere”) and he will be part of a supportive community (of foxes and mice). But it’s not up to Sam-I-am to determine the best time or circumstance for the friend to come out. Despite the allure that Sam-I-am addresses, the friend is clearly not comfortable enough with the idea of coming out, at least not to Sam-I-am.
Since Sam-I-am won’t take no for an answer, the friend is forced to provide a more satisfying explanation to him: It’s not just that the friend “would not” eat the Green Eggs and Ham, but more so that he “could not.” Meaning, it’s not only that the friend is unwilling to explore new preferences for things like Green Eggs and Ham, but that he can’t bring himself to do so for the time being. The friend is reluctant to come out to Sam-I-am because he just feels like he can’t, which is a perfectly valid reason to wait.
Sam-I-am therefore adjusts his approach and goads, “Say! In the dark? Here in the dark! Would you, could you, in the dark?” Sam-I-am invites his friend to a secret, private space, to allow him to safely open up to him about Green Eggs and Ham. Sam-I-am wrongfully believes that it’s OK to force his friend to come out so long as he reassures him that his secret is in safe hands.
The friend rightfully remains stubborn. However, he reaches his breaking point when he is soaking wet and miserable, thanks to Sam-I-am dragging him all over town to the places he could enjoy Green Eggs and Ham if he decided to try it. Dejected, the friend concedes, “If you will let me be, I will try them.” The friend then tries the Green Eggs and Ham just to get Sam-I-am off his case, and although he confesses to liking the taste, it’s still unfair that he did not get to decide on his own terms to explore his curiosity, identity, or appetite for Green Eggs and Ham.
Sam-I-am is a bad friend with good intentions. Although he understands it’s OK to be different, and it’s OK to do things that are perceived as unusual as Green Eggs and Ham, Sam-I-am fails to take into consideration that his friend may not be ready to flaunt his differences. Self acceptance is important and valuable, but it doesn’t always happen overnight. As Sam-I-am demonstrates, forcing people to out themselves, and forcing others to like the same things you like does much more harm than good. Here is a much more appropriate ending to Dr. Seuss’ book:
I do not want to tell you Sam-I-am,
if I eat Green Eggs and Ham.
I wear a dress,
while playing chess.
I wear a tie,
while eating pie.
But it is not your business Sam-I-am,
if I like to eat Green Eggs and Ham.