In The Lorax, Dr. Seuss teaches us what happens when greed and ambition come before environmental consciousness. In the story, a child journeys to a gray, uninviting land to hear the Once-ler’s story. The Once-ler tells how the now barren land used to be covered in Truffala Trees populated by various innocent creatures and watched over by the Lorax. Led by his own greed, the Once-ler chopped down all the tress to make Thneeds. He built a factory toward this end and polluted the whole place. The animals were forced to find new homes and the Truffala Trees were wiped out completely. As all this was going on, the Lorax kept appearing and asking the Once-ler to stop. The bright, cheery Truffala forest soon became a gray, polluted wasteland; the Once-ler couldn’t even make any more Thneeds. The Lorax, seeing what has happened to his trees and creatures, flies off as well, leaving behind only a small pile of rocks and the word “UNLESS.” At the end of his tale, the Once-ler entrusts the child with a Truffala seed, saying, “It’s a Truffala Seed. It’s the last one of all! You’re in charge of the last of the Truffala Seeds. And Truffala Trees are what everyone needs. Plant a new Truffala. Treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air. Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack. Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.” This statement is intended to lead the audience to the pro-environmental activism message of the story. By telling his story, the Once-ler is showing what can happen when progress is allowed to advance unchecked. Giving the final seed to the child in the end is saying that one person can make a difference, if they try. By deconstructing this text, however, we can see many contradictions to the assumed meaning. When we break down the immediately obvious, and somewhat limited, meaning and examine the various components of the story, it all comes back together as a sophisticated and complex social criticism.
We begin to deconstruct the text by identifying some of the binary oppositions, and how they are functioning. Also, which are being privileged and which are not. The most obvious binary in the story is the world with the Truffala Trees and without. The pages that describe the land as it was before the Once-ler began chopping down trees are bright, colorful, and cheery. All the animals appear to be smiling and playing happily. After the trees begin to disappear, the story gets progressively darker. The animals no longer smile and the pages become progressively more gray. By the end, the entire world is shades of blue, brown, and gray. Looking deeper at this contrast leads us to the major binary of the story: the Once-ler’s greed, ambition, and desire for progress vs. the unchanging, natural peace, and rural way of life that is destroyed. The bright colors of the natural world, and therefore nature itself, are obviously the privileged sides of the binary. This supports the pro-environment stance of the text by visually reflecting the darkness of the Once-ler’s actions.
When we look closer at the character of the Lorax, we begin to see how these binaries break down, and how the message of the story is actually contradicted. The Once-ler ends his story by telling how the Lorax just left after the last of the Truffala Trees was chopped down. This story is called The Lorax, one would expect that if the intended message is one of environmental activism; the Lorax himself would be leading the charge. Instead, he leaves behind the word “UNLESS.” Rather than giving a message of personal responsibility, he leaves the mess for someone else to deal with. This hardly promotes an ideology of environmental activism. Maybe the story should be titled after the child expected to do the actual work.
This idea of letting someone else fix our problems is further emphasized by the Once-ler. He has been living in this place for a long time, according to the story, yet he has done nothing to plant that Truffala Seed and care for it himself. He has been hiding in his attic, waiting for someone else to come along and fix the problems he caused. The fact that someone, the child, does, goes even further to create the ideology that there will always be somebody else to clean up what has been destroyed. Rather than showing how everyone should take responsibility for the toll progress is taking on the environment now, we should wait for a child (who could be said to represent the next generation) to show up. Hiding from our problems is an acceptable way of dealing with them. This also says that when you make a mistake you should be overwhelmed by it and not attempt to make it right yourself.
The Once-ler’s greed and ambition are shown to be the causes of the mess he created and therefore they are the unprivileged side of the opposition. This negativity of greed is contradicted by the Once-ler’s actions. He has not learned from his actions and the mess he has created. When the child comes to hear his story, the Once-ler expects to be paid to tell it! He is still being powered by his own greed. He is still making money from the destruction he has caused.
In the end, we have to wonder if just by replanting the trees everything can go back to the way it was. The animals and the Lorax are gone, the air is polluted and the water is a chemical mud. It doesn’t seem like one Truffala Seed can undo all the damage that has been done. This leads us to a new understanding of the ideology of the story. Rather than telling each reader to take part in fixing what has been damaged, perhaps we are being told to keep the damage from happening in the first place. The reader is expected to assume that the “UNLESS” left behind by the Lorax means that unless someone willing to help comes along, nothing will change. Instead, the “UNLESS” could be saying that unless you learn from what has happened here, it could happen to an environment near you. By deconstructing the story, we can see how its governing ideology completely changes. This explains the title being The Lorax, rather than the name of the child, the Lorax is the one delivering the message.
Intro post related to this essay can be found here.
Deconstruction Application Essay – The Lorax by Lindsay E Brunner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.