Over-Thinking It: ‘Ten Apples on Top’

Nathan is on vacation this week.  Just for fun he decided to to short reviews of his three year old’s favorite books.  It should have been simple and quick.  But if there is one thing Nathan is good at it is Over-thinking It.

Dr. Seuss, one Theodor Geisel, is of course best known as the writer/illustrator of just about every classic children’s book most of us have ever read. The books are silly, horrible to read to a child after the fifth time in one day, and full of made up words. What they are not, however, are offensive or controversial.

Geisel also published a number of books under a separate pen name, Theo LeSieg. While the story is that this pen name was used for books he penned but didn’t ink, the nature of the works lends itself to speculation of a different reason. For it is under LeSieg that Geisel handled the tough topics. He talked anti-Semitism and segregation in Hooper Humpledink…? Not Him! He gave an early look into the life of the ‘furry’ lifestyle in I Wish I Had Duck’s Feet.

But of course none of his books hit with quite the same fury as Ten Apples on Top, Geisel’s anti-capitalist response to Randian philosophy. Hidden within the cute illustrations of animals playing their silly game is perhaps the hardest hitting commentary yet.

IMG_20140625_072132_414The book opens simple enough, with one animal placing a single apple on his head, representing, of course, the early stages of the bourgeoisie consolidation of power. Joined by two others, they soon find themselves not at all satisfied with what little they have. In a race to keep up with the Joneses they soon drop any and all other considerations in order to consolidate more wealth (measured in apples ‘on top’) than each other.   Each step brings not happiness or joy, but a desire to be one better than the others who are consolidating the same amount of wealth. Indeed by the end of the story the three protagonists, if the term can be used for such despicable characters, seem to care ONLY for the apples they have accumulated, even after a horrific accident the first thought goes back to the allegorical apples on top.

In Geisel’s apple based dystopia a land based around capitalism is good for no one. Those IMG_20140625_072202_949without apples ‘on top’ live in no better world than the three with them. A feverish jealousy consumes every bit of their life, and they use every opportunity not to better their own lot, but rather to try to take down others. They see the bourgeoisie running around and playing with their wealth whilst they don their aprons and work; and when the time comes they begin their revolution.

IMG_20140625_072234_256The cynical ending is to be expected and shows a real twisted genius. Everyone in the society actually appears happy as they all end up with apples on top, and all swear to never lose the status gained from the phenomenon. But unlike the earlier trio the rest of the characters only achieve their good fortune by miraculous means. Much like the recent country song ‘People Are Crazy,’ good fortune is not earned, but comes to those who deserve it through some sort of mythic karma. What appears to be a happy ending is actually a true Utopia; literally nowhere.



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