Is Dr. Seuss pretentious?

As my son has been insisting more and more frequently that I read Dr. Seuss to him I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to look upon the works with new eyes.  Part of these observations do stem from my incessant championing of The Road.  The book was amazing, the structure unusual, and overall I thought it was brilliant.  Still, a few complaints mentioned were the lack of dialogue tags and quotation marks [amusingly enough I have yet to see criticisms of the story itself – and no, I’m not going to link that article].  After all, how are we to know what character is speaking without someone writing “Mr. Tweedlebeedle said”?

And you know what?  When reading Green Eggs and Ham I came to the amazing discovery that…  I KNEW who was saying what!  No, really!  I know there are illustrations, but in all seriousness, if you’re reading the book to a little person you’re not necessarily looking at the pictures.  Also, in a picture that spanned two adjacent pages both characters will be made to look like they’re talking and still no confusion.  Exception: When you’re reading Fox in Socks confusion abounds.  Of course one should expect that in a book completely made of tongue twisters.  [No matter how tired I am the boy requires me to read this to him.  Feel bad for me.]  Even more so – THERE ARE NO QUOTATION MARKS AND I STILL KNEW CHARACTERS WERE TALKING!

Another little myth I discovered is the issue of not naming characters.  Many people have voiced opinions noting that this is pretentious.  How can a character be well constructed, sympathetic, three dimensional without a name?  Behold the pretentiously unnamed characters of Dr. Seuss!

Green Eggs and Ham

That’s right!  The guy who keeps refusing to try green eggs and ham has NO NAME.  [My son actually calls HIM Green Eggs and Ham despite my many attempts to convince him otherwise.  I’ve dubbed him “Hatman”.  The character, not my son.]

There's a Wocket in my Pocket






While we learn about the bofa on the sofa, the vug under the rug and nupboards in cupboards one bit of information remains missing.  The narrator’s name.  That’s right, that oh, so pretentious Dr. Seuss failed to name YET ANOTHER CHARACTER.  Elitist jerk.  Hrmph.



There are no dialogue tags or quotation marks in this one, although the main characters ARE named.  Mr. Knox and Mr. Socks Fox are continuously bantering over what would actually be fun to do.  Here’s an excerpt to aptly demonstrate why you should feel bad for me.

Try to say this, Mr. Knox, please….

Through three cheese trees three free fleas flew.  While these fleas flew, freezy breeze blew.  Freezy breeze made these three trees freeze.  Freezy trees made these trees’ cheese freeze.  That’s what made these three free fleas sneeze.

YOU try saying that after a long day of toddler wrangling.  Or any day for that matter.  Strangely, it’s now easier for me to say than to type.  I’m sure there are more of his works that fall into these qualifiers, but as they are in my son’s room (and he’s now asleep) I feel it prudent to keep the door closed and let sleeping toddlers lie.

What marks a work as pretentious?  Is there such a thing?  Why?  How?  And, I think most importantly, did YOU try and say that quote from Fox in Socks out loud?

Btw – It’s my birthday, so please don’t mind the overwhelming stench of chocolate from my blog.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be bathing in it today.


11 responses to “Is Dr. Seuss pretentious?

  • jessicabookworm

    I so had to try saying that out loud, I managed it, but there is no one around to prove it!

    As for Dr. Suess being pretentious now you mention it, it does sound a bit pretentious however can’t say I’d noticed before. Dr. Suess wasn’t something I grew up with until they started making film versions. My Dad was read them as a child and he found them creepy hence he never read them to me.

  • Teresa

    Yes, pretentious and yet I don’t mind. Reading Dr. Suess is an exercise for the lips and mind and quite fun. Oh to have that strange kind of writing talent.

    Happy Birthday, dear one, treat yourself to lots of chocolate.

  • Hart

    *falls off chair* Oh, this was BRILLIANT! I LOVE IT!

    A note: I don’t know whether this is personality, gender, or academic predisposition, but my son (now 12) LOVED Dr. Suess and my daughter (now 15) despised him. She wanted a story (preferably one that starred HER), where he loved the cadence. She is my artist and he is my mathematician… (and I love Suess, as a statistician–so that may very well be it, though The Sleep Book and The Lorax are my two favorites)

  • laurelrainsnow

    My kids and grandkids all have loved the Seuss! The magician…the very funny man who can turn words into a game.

    No, I don’t think he’s pretentious.

    I do, however, have issues with SOME writers who do not use quotes…it can be confusing. Perhaps the writers who do it well succeed without confusing anyone, but other writers do not do it well. And in those cases, this style comes across as—well, pretentious; as if they’re throwing the rules out the window because they don’t believe the rules apply to them.

    Like James Frey. I picked up one of his books, and not only were there no quotes (in the first couple of pages, anyway), but the lines were all written without identifying anyone as the “speaker,” either. That frustrated me so much that I wouldn’t read the book.

    Another ploy of some writers—since we’re doing a little bashing here!—is when everything is in first person narration, but the narrator changes with each chapter, with no clarity as to whose voice we are reading. It eventually clears up, but meanwhile, I’ve spent several paragraphs confused…not a style I enjoy.

    Okay…that’s all I’m saying today! LOL

  • martha drummond

    I will have the joy of taking a couple of Dr. Zeuss books out and reviewing the situation. He never struck me as pretentious, in fact I loved the variety of different looking people and animals in his books and their specific talents or descriptors. Also loved the wonderful variety of rhythms and sounds coming out of the readers mouth (my father, mother, or babysitter). If anything it fostered a desire to read outloud and laugh a bit in doing so.

    Lack of quotations may have more to do with free form style and images of the this unique author. I understand that he struggled in school as a youngster, and his imagination would take him to delightful places. I believe that he had working experience at the Springfield Zoo where he developed an interest in the animals as subjects of his drawings.

    Happy Birthday. Marth

  • Helen Ginger

    You brought back memories. I didn’t have Seuss read to me as a child, but I certainly read it to my kids. Despite the tongue twisting passages and nameless characters, I love reading Seuss.

  • Anne

    Pretentious? Interesting – never crossed my mind. It’s a deliberate, meaningful choice by the author. Daphne du Maurier doesn’t name her narrator in Rebecca, either, which I think underscores the continuing presence and power of Rebecca over Manderley and the characters.

    I suppose I could see the argument that not using quotation marks etc. is pretentious (“I am a Brilliant Important Author and do not need to conform to conventional punctuation”), but I certainly didn’t think this when reading The Road. Though, I *love love love* The Road and am definitely biased toward it.

    As for Dr. Seuss, my mom tells me that I was obsessed with his books, always wanted to read them, and memorized a number of them. I have no recollection of this. So, sorry, all your tongue twisting may go unappreciated, haha.

  • litlove

    Lol! Funny post. My son went through a Dr Seuss phase and I read absolutely loads of it and loved it. However, I took to hiding Fox in Socks. For obvious reasons.

  • bre

    Great article. My class really enjoyed reading it for our blog article day this week. Last week we read this article about Dr. Seuss that we liked as well.

    Bre Matthews

  • nelson

    the books are for children, i think you’re reading to much into them. there are no quotation marks or character names because they’re meant to be simple.

  • aaron

    Your son is right. You see, the man with the hat is green eggs and ham! No need for convincing otherwise….share interpretations. 🙂

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