Class, Gender, and Sexuality;
A Postmodern Analysis of Dr. Seuss’ The Foot Book
The darkest and most honest truths of mankind are hidden within the most simplistic forums. In the case of the children’s author Dr. Seuss, scathing critiques on every aspect of 21st century life, from gender roles to capitalism, are at home amongst strange, cartoon figures, bright, garish colors, and childish rhymes. Oftentimes parents themselves do not see the truth in the author’s words– only children, with their honest view of the world– can. With the widespread fanbase of the author’s work, generations of children are introduced to the false concepts society pushes at an early age, in order to prevent them from becoming brainwashed by the effects of mass marketing. In one of Seuss’ finest works, The Foot Book, he examines the relationship individuals have with the typical roles of class, gender, and sexuality through the metaphor of feet.
Lives and people are divided into categories; lines drawn by societal structures to segregate at an early age. Skills, gender, and socio-economic position are just some. The Foot Book bases its entire foundation upon these categories– left and right feet, wet and dry feet. Most clearly is denotation of class between left and right feet. Those who are left-hand dominant make up about 10% of the total population and are thus a lower class of people, paralleling the left side with inferiority and poverty. The passage on page three reads “Left foot, left foot, left foot, right.” In addition, each cartoon figure has their right foot striding forward, showing how the rich are the driving force of politics and the economy, while those at an intrinsic disadvantage– the left foot– are left to be dragged alone without the assistance they desperately need. The three left feet and one right foot also suggests how the minority– the 1%– of the population control all the wealth.
Pages four and five contain more symbols of class, depicting “wet foot, dry foot” and “high foot, low foot.” The lower class are the wet feet– those who struggle valiantly every day just to survive while the wealthy, the dry feet, relax in comfort. The high feet are so high only half of the body is visible, but the low feet appear in full and with an expression of contentment. In the world of capitalism we are told upward mobility is possible but this is false; in reality those in charge want the lower classes to be content with how things are and their meager life position. Finally, the long, monstrous creature on pages six and seven– “front feet, back feet”– is the machine of capitalism and class. The long body is representative of the distance in power and influence between the higher and lower class.
Gender role normativity is also represented in the book. In everyday life it is unnoticable, but when the clear roles of males and females are stated to be examined and studied, the disturbing pattern of the strict roles emerge. “Red feet, black feet” is one example. Red is for females, as it is typically the color of love while black is in fact the absence of color. This is a clear indication of how from a young age girls are taught to be kind and loving, while boys are taught to be stoic pillars of masculinity. How these two conflicting values are meant to interact is not clear, however, only that they are supposed to remain separate. “Slow feet, quick feet” is again telling of gender roles. The nurturing, “slow” female cannot be “quick” like her male counterpart because that does not fit the motherly model. No, it is the male who is the fast, athletic, strong figure in the relationship. “Small feet, big feet” communicates the message found in popular culture and stereotypes– that to be found beautiful women must look a certain way– small and slight. Similarly, to be respected, a man must be large.
There are some feet that are viewed not as normal, but unusual and perhaps grotesque. “Clown feet” are paraded about, a visual representation of queer baiting and exploitation used in media. The drag queen persona so often misunderstood is reduced to nothing more than a freak dressed up in a silly costume opposed to a form of release and self expression. The clown motif is also representative of how out of place and unwelcome the LGBT community feels in the modern world. After all, the clown is often shown to be the symbol of people’s deepest and darkest fears. The clown feet is not how the queer population sees themselves but instead a reflection of how they are forced by society to make the best of an unfavorable situation.
However, the book contains notes of optimism. “How many, many feet you meet” reads a line, showing how the ultimate message of the novel is one of acceptance of the individual identity forged by man. This is reliant not upon the lessons of history or by the brain washings of cell phones and social media but through the person struggle everyone must eventually triumph over. Everything from class to gender to sexuality must be explored in the intimate landscape of the inner-consciousness without draining outside effects, and in the outcome of such a journey, the conclusion that each living person is different would be the natural conclusion. It is testament to the genius of Dr. Seuss that his profound and intricate message is hidden carefully within the meager pages of a children’s storybook. Indeed, the masterpiece of the English language that is The Foot Book accomplishes more in it’s 30-some pages that Joyce did in 800– with enough grace and simplicity that even a child could comprehend.