Despite the ongoing growth of the internet and the constant integration of technology in both classrooms and home life, many children still marvel at the opportunity to read books. Whether physical copies are purchased or electronic versions are rented, there is much to be said about the fact that children are excited to read. One of the most renowned writers of children's books Dr. Seuss. Many of his books have enthralled people of all generations, and he has remained relevant to this very day. One of my favorite works by him, “The Butter Battle”, focuses on the differences between the two societies called the Yooks and the Zooks. On the surface, it is merely a child's book about feuding societies. When looked at through a Marxist Criticism lens, though, we can see a much deeper meaning.
The two feuding societies in “The Butter Battle” are representative of how different ideologies set by those in power blind both societies and the people in them, rendering them unable to tolerate the views of others and refusing to substantiate the others' views. In the beginning of the story, we are told that the Yooks eat their bread with the butter side up. The Zooks, alternatively, eat their bread with the butter-side down. The book starts out with a young boy whose grandfather is taking him to the wall that divides the two people. The grandfather then describes how terrible the Zooks are for eating their buttered-bread in such a preposterous way.
It is not shown that the grandfather gives the issue much thought; it appears as if he is just predispositioned to believe this. This parallels to a Marxist lens idea. According to later Marxist criticism, “Later Marxist criticism ... bringing out the beliefs, values, and ways of thinking through which people perceive what they believe to be reality and on which they carry out their roles in society” (Schakel, 1456). The Yooks, having their bread with the butter side up, believe that this is the only way for it to be done. This plays off of one of my biggest fears in society, and that is when people say “It is done this way because that is the way it has always been done."
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The Yooks and the Zooks have been brainwashed by their respective societies because of those in power. It is at this point that we can start discovering Marxist views. Marxism, according to the book, delves into the conflicts between the owners/capitalists and workers power is manipulated (Schakel, 1455). Let's think about how the Yooks and the Zooks must have started out. This, being no different than many movements that have taken place, was started by the ideas of the few. These people, just as George Washington and our other founding fathers laid the grounds for our country, probably became very involved in the formation of their respective societies.
The people who lived as either a Yook or a Zook were taught by those in power that they had the superior way of life. They were not allowed to sympathize with each other, as the grandfather makes clear in the beginning of the book. This idea is very Marxist. Those who are in power, the respective leaders of the Yooks and the Zooks, oppress the views of their people and tell them how they should feel about the other society. The people don't choose how they feel about each other; they feel how they are told to feel. Later in the story, the two societies build absolutely extravagant super-weapons, which they call a “Big Boy Boomeroo”, with the intention of setting them off to destroy the other group of people for eternity, thus ending the threatening of their way of life. This was because their ideology that the Yooks and the Zooks possessed of each other.
In a Marxist criticism, "Ideology includes everything that shapes the individual's mental picture of life experience- not what life really is, but the way it is perceived" (Schakel, 1456). As mentioned before, the Yooks and the Zooks were unable to fathom the way of life that the opposing society possessed. Their ideology was that the only way for their society to prevail was to eliminate the heretics and bring them a timely, inevitable demise. In reality, there is no reason the two societies couldn't have coexisted. Their ideology blinded them, however, and they were unable to see that they could live and thrive together with their differences.
Throughout this of the story, this character remains neutral. They do not proclaim that the Yooks are right, but they do not say that the Zooks are right, either. The grandchild in this story is representative of how Marxism eventually manifests. We are not born predispositioned to hate or to judge the story, it is important to focus on our main character. During the entirety choices and actions of others. People are taught how to hate, and “The Butter Battle” makes that very clear. The leaders of the Yooks and the Zooks teach their people that the other society is evil and heretical. Rather than choosing to coexist or even to agree to disagree, the leaders demand walls be built and that weapons be invented to out-gun the other society.
The grandson, though, is impartial. He does not take action against either society. He watches as his grandfather fights with all the weapons invented, but never does he antagonize the Zooks himself. It is important to note that this story is an example of a time where Marxism has failed. This story does not outline true Marxism. Marxism discusses the disagreements between classes and how they affect each other; this story is mostly discussing the differences between two peoples and how their ideologies have blinded them. We are given no indication in this story that either the Yooks or the Zooks are better off socially and economically and therefore cannot come to a distinct, irrefutable conclusion as to whether this accurately fits Marxism. Both societies are able to create weapons that match and out-gun each other, so it is safe to assume that neither society is superior to the other. The rich and those in power in this story also seem to be working with their people more (to an extent), as opposed to trying to isolate themselves from the common people in many Marxist stories.
This story, as outlined before, does contain elements of Marxism in terms of a power struggle, though. The higher-powers in the story influence the common people and create not only a rift between the Yooks and the Zooks, but between themselves and the common people. The Yooks and Zooks fight and disagree to no end because it is merely the way things have been done even before the wall went up. Despite their being no official conflict between those in power and the common, we can observe that there is a distinct lack of communication and freedom between the two. As mentioned earlier, the Yooks and Zooks don't question their order and their ideologies; they only do what they are told. If one were to speak out and go against the rest of the society, it is likely that they would be treated poorly and possibly exiled.
Tolerance for the other group of people does not exist in this story, and that is largely due to the bigotry of the ones in power. We have all been blinded by an idea or a thought at one point, and it is important to remember how we overcame these obstacles and continued on the path to righteousness. The events in “The Butter Battle” depict a cruel, intolerant world in which a person's provincialism thrives when compared to the thoughts of the rational and the impartial. Were it not for the bigotry of the Yooks and the Zooks, there would have been no final stand-off. When looked at through a Marxist lens, we can see that both societies are subject to many of the elements of a Marxist society, and the conflict outlined in the story can definitely be viewed as a Marxist conflict.
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