29 July, 2008

Sam-I-Am (not)

The first book I remember reading is Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham. I will admit that I liked it, but I do remember that I read it. Now I am reading it to my two year-old, who loves it along with the voices and sound effects.

Being older and wiser, I am discovering that Theodore Geisel had either a sick, sick, sick mind, or else was grossly misunderstood. Or both. In case you are unfamiliar with the story, I would summarize it in this way.

  • The protagonist is an ordinary man of no obvious means but wears a rather nice hat. (Well, I admit that I would be hard-pressed to defend his appearance as that of a "man", or even of a "male", but it is a Seussian creature that looks vaguely masculine, so we will refer to it as a man). The man sits quietly, reading a newspaper. Already I find this creature deeply sympathetic, as there are few pleasures greater than reading a newspaper that is chock-full of information. But I digress.

    Note that he must be a protagonist, since (a) he is virtuous, as evidenced by the fact that he is reading a newspaper, and (b) he enjoys more of the dialogue than any other character in the drama at hand.
  • This innocent gentleman's bliss is interrupted by someone who can only be described as a diminutive jerk. First he rides about on a dog (again, more of a Seussian creature that resembles a dog) with two signs. The first declares rather pointlessly (and immodestly), I am Sam. The second repeats the interruption with no additional information but for that conveyed by its offense to the usual flow of English: Sam I am. We conclude that Sam is probably an immigrant who is in no small way struggling with English idiom.
  • The protagonist most understandably loses his patience with these repeated interruptions, and expresses a most uncharitable distaste for the little imp. And who wouldn't be a little annoyed at such nonsense? Let us attribute his intemperate choice of words (How I hate that Sam-I-am) to a dyspeptic ulcer and move on.
  • (Why a dyspeptic ulcer, you ask? Have you read a newspaper lately?)
  • The attention-seeking antagonist asks the protagonist if he likes the dish named in the title, Green Eggs and Ham. With a bizarre contraption he thrusts it into the poor man's face.
  • If you know anything about eggs and ham, then you know that the only way to make them green is (a) to inject artifical dyes, which may very well be unhealthy for you, or at the very least are often made from the byproducts of coal tar and other foul substances, or (b) to let it sit in the open air until it contains enough bacteria to qualify as a biological weapon, proving (and not for the last time in this book) that in the Seussian world government regulators are like policemen; they're never around when you really need them.
  • Unsurprisingly, the protagonist (who, strangely, is never named) storms off. Being a very intelligent and cultured fellow, he speaks only in clever rhymes. Being thoroughly disturbed, he forgets his newspaper.
  • The beastly little creature then proceeds to torment the protagonist with all manner of senseless and unappealing incentives to try his product. Would you eat them in a house? Would you eat them with a mouse? Would anyone be surprised at a negative answer?
  • The antagonist looks so positively surprised—surprised!—that the protagonist declines repeatedly, with longer and longer rhymes, to dine on green eggs and ham with a mouse in a house, with a fox in a box, and so forth, that we must perforce conclude that he is accustomed to such unsanitary arrangements. Perhaps he is not an immigrant, but is intimately acquainted with one or more two year-olds.
  • The torment continues. The pusher of green eggs and ham, be they chemically or biologically altered, runs down our protagonist in a car with such careless abandon that the man ends up on his hood, drives him most literally up a tree, crashes the car into the smoke pipe (?) of a steam locomotive, and threatens him with a goat.
  • The engineer and passengers of said locomotive appear either to be in on this ludicrous marketing scheme, or to dwell in mortal of the antagonist. Why? The train proceeds through a cave onto rickety wooden tracks held up by fragile poles sometimes connected by flimsy straps of cloth—recall what I said about government regulators in the world of Seuss—then careen onto a boat—and no one except the protagonist seems to be concerned about any of this in the slightest. Indeed they smile calmly (moronically?) throughout the entire ordeal.
  • Miraculously, no one drowns. The protagonist, fearing that the antagonist may find a way to kill someone, finally relents, and tries a green egg.
  • Pretending to like it, he dumps the other green egg and the ham behind a bush, after leading the little imp away from the water. The people and animals remain in the lake soaking wet, but rejoice at the removal of their antagonist from their company, waving their wet handkerchiefs in gratitude to the protagonist.
  • We don't actually see the protagonist dumping the green egg and the ham, so you might dispute me on that, but hear me out. The protagonist is not shown to eat even one more morsel of ham or egg, and he cannot possibly eat such a grand hock of ham in so short an interval as remains in the text. The natural is that the enormous ham must have been dumped somewhere.
  • He deceives the rude little salesman with such exaggerated praise that it must surely be false (Thank you, thank you, Sam-I-am!).
  • The obvious moral is that when a child pesters his parents incessantly, the correct response is to lie and give the child false praise.
Amazingly, people have taken this moral to heart.

It's a sick, sick, sick story, I tell you. You may call it "imaginative", "fanciful", and "all in good fun"; it's a free country and you're free to be wrong. I prefer to call a spade a spade: the moral is sick, sick, sick!

Of course I continue to read it to my daughter since (a) she seems strangely drawn to the book, and (b) the only English-language alternative I possess at the moment are other Dr. Seuss disasters such as The Cat in the Hat, which I find even more appalling.

What I need is to acquire an abridged, illustrated edition of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, preferably in rhyme. Anyone know where I can score a copy? I cannot seem to find any in the children's book section.

1 comment:

Clemens said...

Brilliant. I have put up a bit of it on Sententiae. It's hilarious.