The Dark Side of Dr. Seuss

By: Hannah Cho ‘07

Theodor Seuss Geisel, or the beloved Dr. Seuss, not only wrote children’s books about One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, but also illustrated political cartoons on topics ranging from tax exemptions to racism. One of his most controversial cartoons, however, was a caricature of a Japanese man next to Hitler, published in the newspaper “PM” on March 5, 1942.

The Japanese man in this cartoon is portrayed with a pig snout, a mustache similar to Hitler’s mustache, buck teeth, glasses, and squinted eyes. Having just come off of World War I, the American people’s disgust and hatred of Hitler were used as fuel in this cartoon to transfer the detest of Hitler to the Japanese people, represented by Emperor Hirohito in this caricature. The depiction of Emperor Hirohito as the “typical” Japanese man also causes the Japanese to lose their identity as individuals and to instead be seen as a collective group of enemies.

The Japanese man portrayed in this political cartoon, also by Dr. Seuss, has the same characteristics of a pig-nose, glasses, slanted eyes, etc. that were used to distinguish Emperor Hirohito. The repetition of these characteristics on all Japanese portrayed in Dr. Seuss’s cartoons also fuels the loss of the individuality of the Japanese people. In the cartoon above, Dr. Seuss goes as far as to use the caption “Wipe That Sneer Off His Face” to call upon the characteristic “sneer” he uses in his caricatures of the Japanese. It calls Americans to act against the sneer, to “wipe it off” the Japanese man’s face by buying war bonds.
These portrayals of the Japanese as all the same and just members in a group or bees in a colony promote the dehumanization of the Japanese. Rather than in World War I where the Germans were seen as innocent, but lead by an evil ruler, Hitler, the Japanese were all equally seen as evil, from the common citizen to the emperor. The distinguishing characteristics were also seen in Japanese-Americans, which caused the hatred and racism to extend from the Japanese to the Japanese-Americans. Attitudes such as these that classified all Japanese as the enemy allowed internment camps to be used and accepted by Americans, although just recently the American people had learned of the inhumane concentration camp the Nazi regime had used.
Even though the idea of classifying the Japanese as non-distinguishable members of a group did not stem from Dr. Seuss’s cartoons, Dr. Seuss did exacerbate the dehumanization of Japanese through his political cartoons. He spread the racism already present against the Japanese in his illustrations, while he also attempted to raise awareness and stop the prejudice against the Jewish people and black racism. Although Dartmouth College may theme its winter carnivals on Dr. Seuss’s books and celebrate the fact that Dr. Seuss was a former student, less than the majority of the college students know of the racist cartoons Dr. Seuss illustrated, the dark side of Dr. Seuss.

“The Political Dr. Seuss.” Springfield Library and Museums
Minear, Richard H. “A Political Catalog of Cartoons by Dr. Seuss.” <http://orpheus->.