Cartoon Culture War

Emily Schoen, Editor-in-Chief

A mural depicting a Chinese character from And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street is to be replaced after it is said to depict stereotypical attributes, causing authors to decide not to attend a scheduled event.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, born March 2, 1904, was an American author, political cartoonist, poet, animator, book publisher and artist. He is best known for writing children’s books under the alias of Dr. Seuss. He has written several of the most popular children’s books of all time, selling over 600 million copies and being translated into over 20 languages by the time of his death on September 24, 1991.

During World War II, Geisel worked in an animation department of the United States Army where he produced several short films, including Design for Death, which later won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. After the war Geisel focused on children’s books, writing If I Ran the Zoo (1950), Horton Hears a Who! (1955), If I Ran the Circus (1956), The Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957) and Green Eggs and Ham (1960). He won the Lewis Carrol Shelf Award in 1958 for Horton Hatches an Egg and again in 1961 for And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. Because of his success, Geisel’s birthday has been adopted as the annual date for National Read across America Day, an initiative created by the National Education Association.

Recently, Massachusetts museum dedicated to Dr. Seuss decided to replace a mural featuring a Chinese character from one of his books after three authors declared they would boycott an event due to the “jarring racial stereotype.” The museum will replace the image with ones from Seuss’ later books.

Children’s book authors, Mike Curato, Mo Williams and Lisa Yee signed a letter declining an invitation to the museum’s inaugural Children’s Literature Festival, which was set for October 14, before it was cancelled, saying the image portrayed was “deeply hurtful.”
The original drawing from the first publication of And To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street

A complaint was posted to Twitter stating: “We recently learned that a key component of this institution honoring Dr. Seuss features a mural depicting a scene from his first book, ‘And to think I Saw It on Mulberry Street,’ and within the selected art is a jarring racial stereotype of a Chinese man, who is depicted with chopsticks, a pointed hat, and slanted slit eyes. We find this caricature of ‘the Chinaman’ deeply hurtful, and we have concerns about children’s exposure to it.”

After the museum offered to take down the mural, the authors have not said they would attend the event, but the museum has not said if the festival is scheduled to take place once more.

And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street was Geisel’s first book and was written in

The version of the drawing published in 1978, removing the skin, ponytail, and changing the phrasing of the passage

1937 and tells the story of a child fantasizing about how his father will go off to work. The book has only received one textual edit, approved by Geisel in 1978, the changing of the term “Chinaman” to “Chinese man.” In addition the character’s

pigtail and yellow coloring of the skin have been removed, leaving the appearance of the character to be the basic design of many of Dr. Seuss’s characters, whimsical. According to Chinese have been using chopsticks around 1200 B.C. and spread across the Asian continent by 500 A.D. Whenever one dines at a Chinese restaurant in America, chopsticks are made readily available to those who are able to use them, as it is part of Asian culture to enjoy rice with chopsticks. A caricature is defined as a picture, description or imitation in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect. The illustration’s features are not exaggerated. In fact, if the authors had not pointed it out in the first place, I would have never paid any attention to them. Honestly, I still did not even find anything after minutes of observation. The version depicted in the books printed before the changes in 1978 show an extremely yellow man with a long ponytail, after the changes his skin is the color of the page and the ponytail was removed. Because this is from Seuss’s first book, the mural should remain. It is an important piece of history with a story behind it.