“Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent beneath.”

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By Maddie Schaffer

With 2016 being the 75th anniversary of the Curious George series, I decided to delve into some of the history surrounding what has become a multi-mullion dollar franchise of a rambunctious monkey and his keeper who not so ironically looks like a banana. Upon doing so, I got sucked into a sad, dark vortex of conspiracies, alternative interpretations, and dark thoughts about not only this fluffy little monkey, but also other fictional characters that had once been cheery friends of my childhood. Apparently monkey business is not just fun and games to some people. Perhaps though, some of these stories and their political interpretations- nay, their deemed political agendas- will lend to some insight into what is being considered the worst election in history.

If you are unaware of the wild history surrounding the birth of the Curious George series, curiousghere is a brief recap:  It started with Fifi, the original primate for which George would be modeled, who was created by a husband and wife team Hans Augusto and Margret Rey. They were German-born Jews living in Paris in 1939, a combination that was less than ideal. When the Nazi’s invaded, their only way of escape was building two bikes from spare parts and peddling away, manuscripts in hand. Some say their own escape influenced the escapades and antics of the monkey, and that the political turmoil is reflected in the scenes. However much I would like to believe these children’s stories are simply that, innocent tales to entertain young minds, some of the interpretations make valid points that are hard to ignore.

The notorious Man in the Yellow Hat takes Curious George from his home in Africa because he fancies him and thinks he would make a nice pet. Thrown into a bag and shipped over seas, to a foreign city with foreign people… is this a jab at western imperialism? Did Hans and Rey create an entire book series off of the idea of early settlers travelling to Africa and displacing the natives for their personal agendas? With both authors no longer with us, it may never be known, but those with strong ties to animal rights and those still fighting for inequality today may be urging people not to allow their children to indulge in these books for moral reasons.

The classic tale of Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm, brother and sister lured to the woods and stumble upon the candy house of children’s (read: everyone’s) fantasies, is hanselsupposedly a classic representation of the disparity between classes in a feudal system. Who knew! The evil witch (but actually how evil can someone with that much candy be) represents the aristocracy and their greed and brutality in exploiting the lower class. The actions committed by the woodcutter and his wife to attempt to rid themselves of the financial burden of their children are supposed to represent the hardships and struggles that the lower class goes through, and stress the imbalance in quality of life in the feudal system. Reading this as a kid, I was more focused on the fact that the siblings got to hangout in a sweet (literally) house, and not on the fairness between the lives of the woodcutter and his family verse the witch.

“A person is a person, no matter how small.” Even if you have never read Horton Hears a hortonhearsWho!, you may be able to guess from the deep meaning and rhyme of this line (unintentional pun), that it comes from the illustrious Dr. Seuss. This famous line has been used by pro-life organizations, which did cause legal issues, for obvious reasons: the book stresses equality, specifically in our political system today. Never directly stated that the purpose of the book was to point out political inequality, it is thought that the “black-bottomed birdie” that is dropped is meant to symbolize Hiroshima bombing. Dark stuff for a supposedly innocent children’s book.

Even the simplistic nature of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff, is giveamouseapparently teaching young children about the ins and outs of the welfare system. It’s certainly necessary a five-year old understand about tax allocation, right? The endless cycle depicted in the book is a warning of the consequences of excessive altruism, which some conservatives may apply to the structure of our welfare system. The book poses the question “when does it stop?,” because in the book, the cycle continues even after the last page. In fact, in continues for seven more “If you give a _____ a _____.”

With the holiday season now embarking and the current concerns with markets, why not read children the classic Christmas tale about the Federal Reserve? Oh, you’re not familiar with that one? Me either. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, another story by Dr. Seuss, according to some, is a representation of the Federal Reserve, the Government, the grinchAmerican people, and their labor outputs. The idea suggested is that the Grinch (Federal Reserve) steals (devaluation through inflation) the presents (labor outputs) from the people of Whoville (American people) as the dog (Government) is just there. Order and harmony is restored when the presents are returned and The Grinch is no longer stealing from the people of Whoville. To say that the only way to restore harmony is to do away with the central baking system is a stretch, as is this interpretation, though, when argued correctly, I may be convinced.

Take these interpretations as you will: with a grain of salt or the whole shaker. It is interesting how stories have different meanings at different stages in our lives. Who knew my whole childhood my parents were just trying to impart political thoughts and philosophies into my unmolded mind.

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posted by R. T. Smith



About R.T. Smith

recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.


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One Response to “Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent beneath.”

  1. schultzd18 says:

    A great reminder Maddie of how children’s literature, for better or for worse, often reveals new meanings to readers as they mature. As many of us have undoubtedly experienced, children’s literature is an especially poignant platform for political criticism. Sometimes the deeper message of the story is the intention of the author, and sometimes it is not. For example, Dr. Seuss’ The Butter Battle Book is clearly and thus intentionally anti-war, and is most likely an allegory for the Cold War. However, as you mentioned in your blog, the moral of Horton Hears a Who! that “a person is a person no matter how small” was not intentionally written as a pro-life statement, but rather became one over time. Perhaps children’s literature is especially effective as a voice for political ideas, at least on the emotional level, because the relationship between the kid friendly plot line and the deeper message echoes the larger relationship of naïve childhood to the real world. When a storyteller or agenda driven interpreter makes his/her readers realize their lost innocence through a story, then the political argument of that story becomes more appealing because it takes on an emotional resonance.

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