By Quinn Ryan, Staff Writer
Let’s talk about Dr. Seuss, shall we? Obviously, he was the subject of a lot of controversy when his publishing company decided to stop printing several books which depicted racist imagery or sentiments. Many people falsely claimed that ‘cancel culture’ had gone too far and that people were just trying to taint Seuss’s legacy. In reality, his estate decided that they no longer wanted to publish certain books because the contents no longer aligned with their views, which is completely understandable. However, I do not want to talk about the racism found in his lesser known, out of circulation books. I want to focus on a piece of colonialist propaganda that has somehow taken a foothold in our culture and is considered a classic. That story, of course, is How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
To me, this is a clear allegory for the treatment of Native Americans in this country, which makes the ending completely disturbing, but we will get to that. Let’s first look at the facts. The Grinch lives alone atop a tall mountain on the outskirts of Whoville, a small settlement at the base of that mountain. The Grinch is the only person of his race that is present in the society, without so much as a mention of family, friends, or peers that are also of the Grinch race. Where are the other Grinches? If I’m right, then the rest of the Grinches have been forcibly removed from their homes or killed. But without making a bold assumption about the fate of the race, we can safely say that the Grinch is an outsider of a different race that has been ostracized from the community down below. The Grinch is left alone on the outskirts of the city, which feels like a reservation type of deal. He is able to stay on Whoville land and go about his business so long as he abides by certain rules. To me, the Grinch’s occupancy of the mountain is more evidence of a past genocide of the Grinch race, for which the Whos are trying to ‘make up for’ by allowing some land to be used for the remaining Grinch. But like I said, we can only go off of what we are given in the story, despite how it may seem to mirror real life events.
Now, let’s get into the action of the story. The Grinch is fed up with all of the Christmas cheer that is constant in Whoville, and he decides to take action against this tradition. By having the Grinch go after Christmas, Seuss is demonstrating an attack of a major Western Holiday. The Grinch is not just attacking a small group of Whos that he is feuding with, he is going after one of the traditions that the European colonizers hold most dear. We do not hear of any holidays or customs that the Grinch has. This is partly because he has no loved ones that he could share these customs with, but it is also because they are not seen as important from the Who point of view. The Grinch is a different color, and foreign, and does not share the same cultural values as the Whos, so we only view him as being opposed to the Who way of life instead of viewing him as a member of a race with its own complex social structure and shared values.
Now, all of this isn’t great, and it shows a real bias towards the white majority in this country, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call it racist . . .yet. However, I have not yet talked about the ending of this story. As we all know, the Grinch’s heart was three sizes too small at the beginning of the story (a way of dehumanizing the Grinch and trying to say that he is less capable of love and compassion, by the way). But, upon discovering the true joy and meaning of Christmas, he is suddenly transformed into a fully realized person who is capable of love. Wow. As soon as the Whos were able to finally break the Grinch and assimilate him into their own culture he was considered to be good. So, to summarize this key moment in the story, at the beginning of the story, the different colored Grinch is heartless and hates the Whos so he is a bad person, but when he adopts their religion and way of life, he is finally a good guy and can enter the society that he once despised. In other words, the only true and noble culture to be a part of is the European settler culture, and you can either leave all of your history and customs at the door to be considered one of us, or you can be an evil hermit on the outside looking in. There is so much wrong with this story that it is hard to pick just one thing to talk about at a time, but first and foremost it completely undermines the cultures of Native American peoples. Further, it positions the colonizers as the victims of the story and the Natives as the perpetrators of violence for trying to preserve their way of life. This is a very clear example of propaganda that support the ‘white man’s burden’ mentality where it is the responsibility of white people to convert non-white people to their way of life because it is superior.
To make matters worse, this is a story that is told year after year to children! The process of indoctrination begins young, where American children are shown how wonderful their culture is and how the Grinch can only become a good person if he joins in on the fun. Whether it was Seuss’s intention or not to portray the story in such a parallel way to the mistreatment of Native Americans in this country doesn’t matter. What matters is that it supports a harmful perspective in which European settlers were in the right for wiping out essentially an entire race of people because they believed that they had a superior culture. It is one thing to celebrate your own Holidays and traditions, but to insinuate that others are incomplete human beings because they do not share your values is incredibly harmful to so many people. This story, and stories like it, delegitimize the existence and experiences of Native people by only showing them as oppositional to Western culture. Instead of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a more interesting and accurate story would be How the Whos Stole the Grinch’s Way of Life.