Updated: March 6, 2021 8:39:25 am
The zaniest creatures and the wackiest things turn up in the much-loved books of Dr Seuss. Cats in hats sweep into houses and stir up a storm with their tricks. Words jump and bump into each other, creating new thingamajigs. But in the silliest rhymes and the scramble of sense and nonsense so beloved of little children (and adults fortunate not to have grown up), in the flamboyantly drawn characters that are neither people nor animal, did the prejudices and biases of Theodore Geisel aka Dr Seuss, a white American born in early 20th century, creep in? The estate of Dr Seuss definitely believes so. Indeed, it has decided to stop selling six of the numerous books Dr Seuss wrote for children because it found that they contained racist imagery, and ethnic stereotypes that are “hurtful and wrong”. The best of intentions might lie behind this revision, but this way lies peril.
That is not to say that childhood totems like Dr Seuss or Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton must be buffered from criticism and contestation for the sake of a wishy-washy nostalgia. But that critique should not extend to cancelling books. Any work of creative imagination bears the imprint of its time and to attempt to sanitise it for future generations, to pre-vet it for them, is an act of presumption. When it comes to little children, parents and teachers must do the hard work of supplying context, who must intervene with questions, even if they have no answers.
In a polarised world, works of art are being assessed — and found wanting — by a you-are-with-us-or-against-us politics that can only produce a conformist culture, open to being hijacked by the right to be offended. The withdrawal of one book (or six) turns the weapon of censorship on many others. If that’s called growing up, cancel that.