Lorax Essay

Dr. Seuss' “The Lorax” Essay

Theodore Geisel, commonly known as Dr Seuss, published “The Lorax” in 1971. “The Lorax” is a popular children's book that focuses on human ecology and the environmental movement. The book tells the story of the Once-ler, and how his business led to him cutting down all the Truffula trees, which destroyed the ecosystem, habitat, and polluted the water and the air in the meantime. “The Lorax”, while it is a very substantial tool for the environmental movement, presents several wrong ideas about the ecological movement. Even though Seuss' book is successful, people who wish to use this book to teach about the environment should be careful about how they utilize it as a text. While raising important questions, “The Lorax” offers answers that can be precarious, despite Seuss' good intentions. The main point of “The Lorax” is that no society can benefit from exhausting their renewable resources. However, there are contradictions within the story and the solutions steer the attention of the audience away from alternatives that can accomplish the goals stated in the book; the second point is shown in the story because the idea that people must change instead of their motivations is obvious in the interaction between the Lorax and the Once-ler. Before going examining these statements, this paper will summarize “The Lorax” and will challenge the story's solidity.
“The Lorax” starts with a young boy who goes to the far side of town to hear the Lorax's tale. There he finds a grouchy old man, named the Once-ler, who says he will tell the boy the story but only if he is paid. The Once-ler then tells of when the land was clean and wilderness was everywhere. Various animals such as swomee-swans, bar-ba-loots, and humming-fish lived among the colourful tufts of Truffula trees, which went “mile after mile in the fresh morning breeze” (Seuss 2). The Once-ler came to this forest in a cart and began to chop down a tree, and he knit the tuft into a “Thneed” (2). After creating the first thneed, the Lorax appeared:
“He was shortish. And oldish.
And brownish. And mossy.
And he spoke with a voice
that was sharpish and bossy” (3).

The Lorax, said he spoke for the trees and asked: “What's that THING you've made out of my Truffula tuft?” (3). Sadly for the Lorax, and the trees, the thneeds were very popular, and sold quickly. Business at a boom, the Once-ler called in his family to help and pretty soon there were factories, and trees were being cut down very quickly. The Lorax came back to the Once-ler saying that the Bar-ba-loots had to leave because there was not enough fruit from the trees to live off of. The Once-ler felt bad for a small time, but then claimed: “Business is business! And business must grow” (4). The business did grow, and it also polluted the air and the water, the animals had to leave, and the Lorax tries to make the Once-ler understand what he is doing to the area, but he doesn't listen. And then the last Truffula tree is chopped down. No trees...

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(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

The recent movie adaptation of The Lorax was a smash hit at theaters, drawing viewers into a 3-D version of the world Dr. Seuss created over 40 years ago. Hollywood expands upon the classic environmental tale but loses the simplicity of the message in updating the story for a modern audience. But the message — that the environment must be protected against those who would profit from it — is important. With Earth Day nearly upon us, it’s worth taking a closer look at the children’s book that spawned the movie.

(Photo Credit: Random House Books for Young Readers)

In The Lorax, a boy ventures off to the far end of town “…where the Grickle-grass grows, and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows…” He finds the old house of the evil Once-ler and hears the story of how his world came to be so gray and polluted.

As the Once-ler tells it, he discovered this colorful place long ago, teeming with Brown Bar-ba-loots, Humming-Fish and luscious, beautiful Truffula Trees. The trees were of particular interest, since they could be made into a garment called a Thneed. “A Thneed’s A Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need! It’s a shirt. It’s a sock. It’s a glove. It’s a hat. But it has other uses. Yes, far beyond that.” The Lorax, who speaks for the trees, protests. But no one listens.

The Once-ler cranks up Thneed production, building a factory and expanding capacity to meet the needs of consumers. The Lorax pleads with him to keep the trees alive, but the Once-ler, driven by money, pays no attention. Soon the Bar-ba-loots and then the fish are driven off, because they can’t survive in a habitat with so few trees. With the last Truffula tree chopped down, Thneed production stops, workers leave, the factory closes up and the Once-ler is left in a grim, desolate world of his own creation. Even the Lorax, whose persistent warnings went unheeded, takes off in search of someplace better. The book ends, back in the present, with the Once-ler giving the boy the last remaining Truffula Tree seed, in the hope that he can bring back the beautiful trees.

The fable isn’t subtle, nor should it be. Seuss personifies industry as a whole with the Once-ler, to draw interest and attention to unchecked corporate greed as a threat to nature. The Lorax sounds the warning siren, but is ignored, as environmental groups often are, until it’s too late. But industry isn’t the sole culprit in this cautionary tale. Industry will only produce what it thinks consumers will buy. So on a certain level, we’re all responsible for the fate of the environment. Dr. Seuss goes easy on us in his story, but our complicity is heavily implied. If we, as consumers, are so easily swayed by the next big thing, without regard for how it’s made, then this is the world we’ll end up with.

Dr. Seuss (Photo Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

The Lorax is a fairly grim tale compared to Green Eggs and Ham or The Cat in the Hat, for sure. But it reflects the era in which it was written. In 1971, when the book was released, the United States was embroiled in environmental issues left over from the 1960s. The deforestation of the Pacific Northwest was chief among them; logging companies were cutting down trees at alarming rates. Needless to say, the logging industry was not happy about The Lorax. The book was banned from many schools and libraries near thriving timber communities. Timber industry groups even sponsored a rebuttal book, called The Truax, which helped kids understand the necessity of harvesting timber.

Learn about the history of Earth Day.

At no point does The Lorax say “don’t cut down trees”; a world without industry is no better an option than a world without trees. The book simply attempts to increase awareness of the possible extreme should industry go unchecked. Seuss thinks society needs to strike a balance. Let’s not forget that the books he sold — millions of them — were all printed on paper from, you guessed it, trees. As the Lorax puts it, “they say I’m old-fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast!”

The Lorax remains a staple of children’s reading lists for its whimsical characters and wonderful, Seussical wordplay. But its cautionary message is as important today as it ever was. Respect for the environment and all living creatures will help us preserve the planet for ourselves and future generations. And that respect can live in harmony with economic progress. The fable rings true, as we prepare to celebrate another Earth Day.

Visit the Earth Day section at CBS Local.

Kyle Ayers is a writer for CBS Local and KorkedBats.com, as well as a stand up comedian living in New York, Earth. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kyleayers.


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