Would You Eat This with a Grain of Salt?

Article excerpt

NO DOUBT YOU, too, have noticed the symbolism in that well-known literary foray into the human subconscious, Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham."

What are we to make of the opening remark by the dour creature in the top hat: "I do not like that Sam-I-Am!"?

Parental rejection of an anarchic and inventive child-figure.

Sam-I-Am's subsequent and repeated offerings of the delectable verdant breakfast treat?

It's a child's attempts to win a parent's affection, and to ease adult gloom with the gift of childlike imagination.

So analyzes Tim Wolf, an assistant professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro, in a paper to be published in the journal Children's Literature.

The innocent parent may be taken aback. Isn't it just a cute story with witty word plays?

Not by the hair on your chinny-chin-chin.

To scholars in the growing field of children's literature, the best children's book can be as rife with hidden meanings as Shakespeare.

"The notion that it's for children and therefore it's easy and doesn't count really doesn't bear up once you start looking at it," said Mary Harris Veeder, who teaches children's literature at Indiana University Northwest, in Gary.

Wolf describes "Green Eggs and Ham" as Dr. Seuss' most successful resolution of the theme of parental rejection that runs through a number of his works.

In this book, the child-figure persuades the parent-grouch to partake of the green eggs and ham, which represent the child's imagination, and thus wins back the parent's love, Wolf wrote.

Wolf's paper shows just how deeply a children's text can be read. Take, for example, "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins," featuring a hat with a feather pointing up, which sprouts new hats every time Bartholomew removes it at father-figure King Derwin's insistence.

"Some readers may wish to consider the theoretical psycho-sexual implications of a father-figure who is threatened by something on the son-figure that `always pointed straight up in the air,' " Wolf writes. …