A Tale of Addiction and Corruption, By Dr. Seuss11/29/2010
The year was 1960. Social mores were just beginning to fall under the onslaught of rock ‘n’ roll music and illegal, mind-altering substances. The middle class felt the pressure of impending change and feared the world its children would inherit.
One man saw it coming. One man with only the power of the written word at his disposal challenged us to fight the future, to be aware of the change-agents in the world.
His given name, Ted, is not usually mentioned; he exists primarily as a mythic nom-de-plume in our collective unconscious.
He is Dr. Seuss. And Green Eggs and Ham is his provocative exploration of the world of pushers and their middle-class targets.
In the beginning of Green Eggs and Ham Ted’s protagonist (it’s too much to call him a hero, since his end is so tragic) sits alone in his working man’s armchair, reading the newspaper. He has no name. He needs no name. He is the Everyman. He represents all of the hardworking suburbanites who wanted nothing more than to do a good job and then live a comfortable life. But the Everyman has a Nemesis. There is one character roaming the streets of the Everyman’s neighbourhood who flouts society’s rules, the rules the Everyman has followed so carefully his whole life. The Nemesis is Sam-I-Am, and he is a pusher.
Sam-I-Am (I’ll call him “Sam” for short) is an advocate for a most unusual product: Green eggs, and ham. No illicit substance has ever been more dangerous while at the same time being so delicious. Sam knows that once a person takes even one bite of his merchandise they will be hooked forever. Green eggs and ham is the most addictive substance on the planet. And Sam profits shamelessly from its distribution.
Sam wears his lifestyle on his sleeve, brashly proclaiming to all the world where he is by carrying giant signs with his name on them. He rides exotic animals around town instead of walking or driving a sensible car like you imagine the Everyman does. He spends lavishly on gadgets, like pointing arms and fishing rods with serving platter extensions. His profession affords him the luxury of indulging his personal interests, like acrobatics: Sam is an accomplished juggler and balancer-of-objects.
Ted, Dr. Seuss, presents the struggle between the Everyman and Sam-I-Am as one between noble restraint and indefatigable enthusiasm. The Everyman knows all about Sam-I-Am and his criminal behaviour. So when Sam first approaches him the Everyman rejects Sam’s overture very simply: “I do not like them, Sam-I-Am. I do not like green eggs and ham.” But Sam has boundless energy and can easily absorb rejection. Like the pushers Ted was warning us about, Sam searches out the weaknesses in our resistance.
Perhaps the Everyman does not want to indulge in his own home, where the neighbours can see. So the clever Sam offers some suggestions: a rodent-infested flop house; a rope-suspended vermin trap. Or, if the Everyman is paranoid about staying in one place, Sam can provide mobile locations for the introduction of green eggs and ham into the Everyman’s body: a car that can drive up and perch on trees, equipped with a secret compartment large enough to hide a goat; a train that can travel into dark tunnels where no one can see the Everyman give in; or a boat that can travel far out to sea where none of the Everyman’s peers would have a clue. Sam leads the Everyman into a clandestine relationship, inviting him to travel and explore secrets with him. Like every good manipulator, Sam knows that a person who shares one secret with you is highly likely to allow you to talk him into doing things he never thought he would. Sam’s plan is to show the Everyman that the world is full of secret places so that the Everyman will no longer consider himself part of the rigid, rule-following middle-class, but instead above it. He will be a rule-breaker, a knower of secrets, and eventually, yes, a doer of evil deeds.
But even under this enormous pressure the Everyman resists. His middle-class sensibilities are ingrained too strongly. He is, here before the last, Dr. Seuss’ great triumph: a man who will not succumb, who holds true to his principles. No amount of secret-sharing or world travel or other enticement can ever get the true, honest, committed Everyman to abandon society and chase the rabbit down the hole into anarchic bliss.
Sam knows he is beaten. There can be no convincing a committed believer, and the Everyman believes in the good of society and the integrity of the self. So Sam resorts to his final tactic, the one he holds in reserve for problem cases. It is this last glimpse into the pusher’s toolbox that Ted thought the world needed to fear.
Because in the end, when persuasion fails to corrupt the incorruptible man, Sam-I-Am resorts to torture. He waterboards the Everyman into submission.
“Do you like green eggs and ham?”
“No, I do not like green eggs and ham.”
“Do you like green eggs and ham?”
Breathless. “No, I do not like green eggs and ham!”
“Do. You. Like. Green. Eggs. And. Ham?”
“Sam! If you will let me be, I will try them. You will see.”
In the end the Everyman gives up. Not even his constitution can withstand the psychological and physical torments Sam is capable of. Finally he begs Sam to let him try green eggs and ham. He begs. And he assures his tormentor that everything will be okay; he doesn’t need to be put under water again. “You will see,” he whispers, exhaustedly, dripping wet from his dunking.
Then he tries them, and Sam’s faith in his product, and his methods, pays off. The Everyman becomes an advocate for green eggs and ham from the first bite. It is in part because the product itself is so addictive, but also because Sam has, through torture, formed a symbiotic relationship with the Everyman and the Everyman now seeks to please his criminal master. The closing pages of Green Eggs and Ham paint a frightening picture of Stockholm Syndrome and addiction. Ted, Dr. Seuss, is not optimistic about our chances.
Now, there has been some debate about the final lesson we are supposed to get from the book. Some have suggested that it is not in fact a story about fighting pushers but is instead about overcoming our own inner curmudgeons and trying new things instead of fearing them because they are new. Well, that is exactly the kind of thing an academic would say. We all know academics are products of the hippie revolution. They reject the idea that the working man has a role that isn’t subjugated, so they will promote attempts to rip the Everyman from his comfortable and sensible day-to-day existence.
I have done my own scholarship. I have discovered the missing page from Dr. Seuss’ grand tragedy, deep in the archives of its keepers, Moxy Fruvous. The real ending is not the one that shows the Everyman gleefully enjoying his new addiction (or reveling in a great new experience, as the hippie academics would have you interpret it). No, the real ending has the Everyman turn to Sam and say: “Hey, we should share them, eh? We got enough!”
But Sam is not promoting some new experience that will lead to social nirvana or simply break down the curmudgeon’s irrational walls and resistance to change. No, Sam is a pusher.
“Are you kidding? I don’t eat that stuff.”
Pushers don’t use.