*Readers Be Advised* The following article contains images that are offensive. Please proceed with caution and keep in mind that it is only our intent to inform and that we find the images highly insulting and disrespectful.
The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, The Lorax, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Horton Hears a Who and Fox in Socks, are but a sampling of the classic books Dr. Seuss authored and drew. A man whose writings have become something akin to required reading for much of the world’s population, thinking about him or hearing his name is likely to bring back a flood of happy memories. A very creative person who brought to life all kinds of interesting creatures and wrote about them in enthralling rhyme, the man could be called a genius.
However, just because he created a bevy of stories that have gone down in history doesn’t mean that everything he did deserves celebration. In actuality, a lot of people don’t realize it, but Theodor Geisel, the man commonly known as Dr. Seuss today, has a history of illustrations that are offensive instead of delightful. Keeping that in mind, we thought it made perfect sense for us to put together this list of some of the most shockingly offensive things this famous writer and illustrator ever drew.
In order to be considered for this list, a drawing needed to satisfy a few simple criteria. First and foremost, it obviously needs to have been created at the hands of Dr. Seuss. Additionally, the subject matter of the illustration needs to be something that could offend those who come across it. Whether that means that it includes subject matter that touches upon racist ideas or tropes, is more overtly filled with racist ideas or touches on any other kind of hatred, it can qualify. On top of that, if the drawing is overtly sexual in nature it was something we considered, as the good doctor is best remembered for his involvement in children’s entertainment. With those ground rules in mind, we present to you Dr. Seuss’ most offensive drawings.
Can you believe that in times of yore this kind of casual racism was actually meant to sell people things? A drawing that was used to promote a bug spray called Flit, clearly the company was happy with this famous artist’s work as you will see other ads he drew for them on this list. The fact that we see that familiar Dr. S, near the bottom of this, is both disturbing and heartbreaking for anyone who grew up loving his work. Showing what appears to be a salesman or everyday person who has come across a sultan desperate to defeat his fly problem. Offering up a good time with his harem girls, like they are less than human, in return for anyone who can help, it features a stereotype of a multi-faceted society in an attempt to sell people something.
14. Elephant Ride
The first entry on this list that focuses on some kind of bushmen, let us introduce you to the king character that you will see rear its ugly head here again. This time around sitting back on an elephant that is carting him around the jungle as a servant does his bidding, the text reveals how important the substance he is being sprayed is, to his majesty. Stating that he traded his wife to someone to get it, the very idea that these racist characters see women as something to be exchanged for goods or services ups our disgust with everything we’re looking at.
13. Cat Alley
The first of far too many drawings by this artist that show the Japanese in an awful light, we are sad to report that there are a lot of images like this one that are yet to come on this list. Portraying Uncle Sam as a bird fighting off an endless line of alley cats meant as stand-ins for the Japanese people, this concept alone has our ire up. When you then take a look at the sign on the fence, which names the alley itself after a racial slur, you just have to shake your head in disgust.
12. Father and Daughter
A lot of people don’t realize it but Dr. Seuss wanted to try his hand at more adult fare, such as the book this comes from. Published in 1939, it is said that not even the man behind it was a fan and we agree with him considering that it is hard to follow and not at all funny. Worse than that, though, there is something really weird going on here, where seven sisters who are never seen wearing a stitch of clothing one after the other attempt to get close with their horses and prospective suitors. While that is odd, it pales in comparison to this moment where the daughters stand in line before their father, who is shown covered head to toe is much more off-putting. What father wouldn’t insist that his daughters put on some clothes both in his presence and in public?
11. Jungle Photographer
Not content to just include a drawing of a bushman that is as close to blackface as a sketch could be, this time around Dr. Seuss felt the need to include animal abuse in his advertisement. Showing a world in which jungle photographers rely on Flit bug spray to make the animals they record do the things they desire, the image shows a jungle cat being stood on and an elephant being sprayed in the eyes. Seriously, what kind of messed up company thinks it is a good idea to show their product being used to harm the eyes of defenseless animals? On top of that, what does that have to do with a spray meant to make bugs go away?
In 1953 Dr. Seuss visited Japan and it appears as though his time there seems to have fundamentally changed the way he saw the Japanese people. The fact that he dedicated Horton Hears a Who to “My Great Friend, Mitsugi Nakamura of Kyoto, Japan”, says a lot about his changing views but before that he drew and wrote some abhorrent things about the entire race of people. Case in point, this War Bonds ad where he depicted them as cartoonish people who need to have the sneers wiped off their faces. The very idea that this type of drawing was used to raise money for the army makes the content all the worse.
9. Island Flies
There is a lot of offensive stuff going on here. First, you have what appears to be a bushman alone on an island that is drawn in a manner that is meant to imply that he is so dirty and disgusting that flies follow him wherever he goes. Secondly, even in this situation where a white man is stuck wading water in the middle of the ocean the situation makes it seem like it is he that has the upper-hand and answer to the problems presented. Finally, the misspelling of the word mister is used to portray the bushman as uneducated.
8. Horse on Human
Another piece taken from Dr. Seuss’ book The Seven Lady Godivas, this time around he has his crosshairs directly targeted on people who are overweight. One-half of an image that shows the sisters riding their horses, there is an obvious exception when it comes to the sister Teenie. Obviously named in an attempt to be ironic, that lack of subtlety is put to shame by his choice to buck the trend and instead of showing her on the back of her steed, it is her that is bearing the animal’s weight. Attempting to make a joke out of the horse’s inability to have a larger woman sit on its back, it is a cheap shot and would inspire a lot of angry letters these days.
What the hell was wrong with Dr. Seuss back then? Someone who clearly held the Japanese people in great contempt during the Second World War, something a lot of people may have echoed at the time, the way he took his gripe out on every countryman was disgusting. Showing a mutated person, he has a Nazi pendant around his neck and is dressed to the nines, even going so far as to wear a top hat, this seems to be a play on their attempts to look appealing. Of course, there is then the fact that his lower half seems to be some kind of monster or freak and the words speak to the Japanese concept that Americans are barbarians. An appeal to his people to not trust anyone who looks like the enemy, his use of an insult to their society was clearly an attempt to use their patriotism and turn it into blind hatred.
6. Call to Arms
A drawing that was designed to get the American people involved in supporting the war efforts against both Japan and Germany, it amazes us that Hitler seems to almost be getting off easy here. Perhaps, that speaks to Dr. Seuss’ inclination at the time to portray white-skinned figures with more respect considering Adolph looks a lot like the actual man only with his features exaggerated. On the other hand, the Japanese man is the very image of a racist caricature and seems to be more focused on the people instead of any one leader. There is an implication here that anyone who looks like they may be Japanese is the enemy of the country and if that doesn’t offend you to your bones then we don’t know what would.
5. Racist Jungle Cooking
The last drawing that was meant to sell a product to people on this list, it shows that Flit bug spray and their artist of choice were happy to unfairly skewer multiple races in the search for sales. Featuring a drawing of a dark-skinned king and his chef about to enjoy a meal, it takes a turn when it is revealed that a large bug is coming right for his highness. That is until the contents of the pot, which turns out to include a white-skinned man, come forward and kill the bug with the spray. Portraying other races as savages, this is yet another example of the depths he fell to at the time.
4. Slap a What?
While there is no question that the era in which these drawings were released would likely be more welcoming of them than modern times, there is a misconception that people were ok with this crap. During America’s conflict with The Third Reich, Japan especially found their people under racist attacks in the illustrations of Dr. Seuss. When his work received complaints because of the awful nature of it, Theodore did not bat an eye and on at least one occasion defended them. “Right now, when the Japs are planting their hatchets in our skulls, it seems like a hell of a time for us to smile and warble: ‘Brothers!’ It is a rather flabby battle cry. If we want to win, we’ve got to kill Japs… We can get palsy-walsy afterward with those that are left.”
A drawing that was meant to convince people to buy war bonds so the money could go to the war effort, the good doctor opted to compare the Japanese people to insects. Writing that bug swatters were needed to fight them, the accompanying drawing featured a racist caricature of the Japanese people. The devil was in the details too, so he even came up with a loathsome catchphrase to embolden his point in the minds of those who looked upon this dreck.
3. TNT Line
An illustration that brings into sharp view the type of work that Dr. Seuss did at one time in his career, it takes a humongous group of people that his country was at war with and portrays them all the same. Focused on the Japanese when America was at war with them, its title alone, “Waiting for the Signal from Home”, speaks very loudly as to the point he was attempting to make at the time. Showing racist versions of people who’d immigrated to America from Japan, he shows them all receiving explosive materials in order to take the United States down when the time is right.
2. Thirteen (The Bedroom Companion)
One of the forgotten books that Dr. Seuss contributed to has to be The Bedroom Companion, which was a humor book aimed at adults. Far from the type of thing that we usually associate the man with, we’re guessing the keepers of his estate wish they could eradicate it from all existence. Featuring an elephant character that instantly brings to mind the story of Horton Hears a Who, this time around the animal is seen gawking at a nude woman in the clutches of a man. Still, as different as that particular imagery is, it wasn’t enough to make our list.
Instead, we chose this piece where a boy who is identified as being only thirteen years old in the dialogue is stranded on a desert island with a fully adult woman, Miss Quackenbush. Written to be offering up his apologies to the much older woman, it is heavily implied that the young man feels guilty as he can’t satisfy her sexually. While you may think we are reading into the image too much, let us explain why that thought would be off-base. The entire book is filled with nothing else but images that are chocked full of sexual innuendo. In order for this drawing to be taken any other way, we’d have to presume that suddenly in the middle of a sexually focused book; he included something that totally broke the theme for no apparent reason. We’d love to give him the benefit of the doubt but clearly, we’d be deluding ourselves in this case.
When the original of this drawing went up for auction in 2015, it was covered by The Huffington Post website. At the very top of the page, just below the headline and social media prompts, there were some purposely chosen words in order to cover the company’s butt against those who were about to be put off. “Warning: The image included in this post may be offensive or upsetting to readers.” Gee, you think?
An illustration that dates back to 1929, it was titled “Cross-Section of The World’s Most Prosperous Department Store”, which speaks to the fact that the artist seemed to think this was unlikely to upset. While his later work and comments made it seem as though he felt at least embarrassed if not ashamed of his involvement in content like this, it is hard to look at this image and see him the same way. Starting out seeming like an out there but harmless store, the final panel features a disgusting reveal that people of African descent are on sale to be used for firewood. If there is any question as to the fact that these are supposed to be actual human beings the sign on the wall identifies them by using the N word. All of this was supposed to be funny too, which is absolutely revolting.