The Harmful Effects of Othering from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas! "
Theodor Seuss Geisel—or more notably known as Dr. Seuss—wrote more than sixty books in his entire life as a writer and illustrator. His works gained fame for their whimsical, rhyme-riddled nature of telling a powerful, complex story with stylized illustrations. One of such classic Dr. Seuss tales and a holiday staple, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957) is a parable about materialism and the dangers of othering people in society.
From the beginning, Dr. Seuss places the Grinch in complete opposition to the warm and welcoming Whos, noting: “every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot… But the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!” (1-6). Even in describing the character, Dr. Seuss uses negative adjectives (“sour frown” and “awful ideas”) and verbs like “hated,” “snarled,” “growled,” etc., whereas the Whos “feast,” “sing,” “stand hand-in-hand.” Moreover, the Grinch’s living conditions differ tremendously from the Whos: he resides alone in a cold, dark cave, overlooking the people in Who-ville living in “warm-lighted houses” decorated for the Christmas holiday. Shunned from society and stigmatized as ‘other,’ the Grinch develops a resentment for all the warmth and kindness representative of the Whos and pillars of the Christmas holiday. This jealousy is why he wants to destroy it, taking all the gifts, food, and decorations one night. Only the Whos stand united and merry because the holiday spirit never dwelled in material objects. As the Grinch, once again, witnesses the visible happiness below him but is unable to participate, Dr. Seuss illustrates that the character’s exclusion from the community was the source of his unhappiness.
The Grinch’s character flaws and hateful personality result from his isolation and lack of inclusion in Who-ville. As Kendall Lange argues, “though the Whos do not intentionally isolate the tight-hearted Grinch, their lack of inclusion leads to the Grinch’s hateful worldview,” consequently making themselves responsible for the near destruction of their community (70). The Grinch’s turning point happens in the scene where he stands alone on Mt. Crumpit with only a sleigh-full of Who-Christmas paraphernalia as company while the Whos dance together. Upon seeing this, he reflects on his isolation, concluding that “Maybe Christmas … perhaps… means a little bit more!” (169); the Grinch finally understands that happiness stems from a sense of community and not material possessions. Having had the revelation, he redeems himself and joins the festivities, the text stressing that “… HE HIMSELF…! The Grinch carved the roast beast!” (178-79) and that “the Grinch’s small heart / Grew three sizes that day!” (172-73). No matter the Grinch’s differences to the Whos, his integration in their society removes his ‘other’ status and provides him with what he always needed to feel whole: fellowship and community.
Dr. Seuss’ classic holiday story How the Grinch Stole Christmas! warns against materialistic lifestyles and the dangers of shunning people. Through the relationship between the story’s titular character and the community he observes, the author shows how these outsiders could become envious of the inclusive communities and, later, pose a threat to themselves and others. Instead, if they are included in activities, they find happiness in these human connections while their hearts might (literally) grow to love and accept others.
Lange, Kendall N. Oh, the things you can find (if only you analyze): A Close Textual Analysis of Dr. Seuss’ Rhetoric for Children. MA thesis, Kansas State University, 2009.
Seuss. How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. Random House, 1957.