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Literature / The Lorax

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He's the Lorax. He speaks for the trees.
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing's going to get better. It's not.

The Lorax is a story written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss that was first published in 1971. It is an environmentally-oriented story about a person named Once-ler (shown only as a pair of green arms) who caused devastation to the land and was constantly scolded for it by a creature called the Lorax, whose warnings the Once-ler had ignored until it was too late.

The Lorax was adapted into a TV special in 1972 by De Patie Freleng Enterprises. A feature-length film from Illumination Entertainment was released in 2012, with Danny DeVito as the title character.

Not to be confused with Lomax.


  • Aesoptinum: Truffula trees. You know, the ones for which The Lorax speaks. They're used for making Thneeds.
  • Affably Evil: The Once-ler is pretty nice when you're not on his bad side.
  • After the End: The boy discovers the Once-ler long after he has destroyed the forest.
  • Allegorical Character: The Once-ler and the Lorax represent unchecked capitalism and industry and the preservation of nature respectively.
  • Ambiguously Human: All that is seen of the Once-ler are eyes and some green hands and legs. It is unclear over whether that's supposed to be clothing or his natural skin/fur color, though the Illumination adaptation interprets him as a human who wears green gloves.
  • Arc Words: UNLESS, the words that were printed on a pile of stones that the Lorax was standing on before he left. The Once-ler took those words to heart and realized that unless he did something to reverse the situation, nothing was going to get better.
  • The Atoner: The Once-ler at the end, when he has time to think of what his business had done to the environment. His last act is to give the person who is listening to the story a Truffula Tree seed so that the forest could one day return.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Depressingly so. To put it into perspective, even the bad guy himself is horrified at his own victory.
  • Big Bad: The Once-ler, whose greed ruins an entire ecosystem.
  • Black-and-White Morality: The Lorax is white and the Once-ler and his family are black in this moral dilemma. Notably, the Once-ler gives no justification for his Thneed business beyond his slogan that everyone needs Thneeds, making it clear that he didn't really care about his business impact beyond lining up his own pockets.
  • Bowdlerise: The Lorax's line "I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie" was removed from the book in 1985 after two research associates from the Ohio Sea Grant Program wrote to Seuss about the clean-up of Lake Erie. However, the line is kept in the 1972 TV version (it is spoken by one of the Humming Fish), even in the VHS and DVD releases. At least one British edition of the book lets the line remain, too.
  • Bystander Syndrome: The Once-ler says "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." It's particularly effective because this is spoken to a child, implying that kids must care about the future if they want to keep the world from being devastated.
  • Crapsack World: The once-beautiful land gets turned into this after it becomes stripped of Truffula trees by the Once-ler's factories, with the pollution lingering in the wake of their ruins.
  • Darker and Edgier: The second darkest of Dr. Seuss's booksnote . Its content discusses the effects of using up natural resources, such as trees, and not being able to replace them. However, there is still a glimmer of hope in the form of the last Truffula tree seed and the implication that the trees and the Lorax will return.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Once-ler. "Huh? Oh... It's Nature boy. The garden club member."
  • Decoy Protagonist: Despite the titular character, the story is really about the Once-ler. The Lorax basically represents the Once-ler's conscience, something to tell him he knows what is the right thing to do, but his production of business continues to eventually lead to his great downfall.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The poor Lorax crosses it when the last Truffula tree has fallen.
  • Didn't Think This Through: The Once-ler learns the hard way that by continuously chopping the Truffulas down, there eventually wouldn't be anymore, meaning he couldn't make any more Thneeds.
  • Downer Ending: The story ends with the forest gone, the animals gone, the settlers gone, the city gone, the factory gone, and the Lorax gone. Only the Once-ler remains, who regrets his actions. However, there is one ray of hope: a small pile of rocks with one word. UNLESS. If the boy can regrow the forest and protect it, maybe the Lorax will come back. What makes this even more depressing in the animated version is that the Lorax attempts to tell the Onceler family shortly after they move in that it takes ten years for a Truffula seed to sprout, and at least ten more years for the sapling to grow. (It may well be more than that, but we never find out because the Lorax starts coughing in the middle of his speech because of all the car exhaust.)
  • The Faceless: The Once-ler and his family, as well as the man who bought the first thneed.
  • Gaia's Lament: The ecology collapses as a result of Once-ler's actions.
  • Greed: Pretty much the cause of the Once-ler's actions, especially when the Thneeds start to take off.
  • Green Aesop: The Once-ler's hubris and greed turns a once-flourishing Truffula Tree forest into a polluted wasteland, though there's hope that if a Truffula Tree seed could be planted and nourished into a healthy tree, it could undo all the damage.
  • Heel Realization: The Once-ler in the end after the forest's destruction. By the time the boy visits him, he's had plenty of time to reflect on his mistakes.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: The Once-ler and his family (until the film adaptation).
  • How We Got Here: The story starts and ends at the place where the Once-ler's Thneed factory once stood, and the Once-ler explains to the boy how it all happened.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The Once-ler and his family. They consume the territory of all its Truffula Trees and then move on when there is no more, leaving the once flourishing land a deserted polluted mess.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The Lorax dismisses the Thneed, right before someone buys it.
  • Land, Sea, Sky: The Bar-ba-loots, the Humming-Fish, and the Swomee-Swans, respectively.
  • Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair: Before the events of the story the Once-ler and his relatives ran a lucrative, though highly destructive, business turning the foliage of the Truffula Trees into Thneeds. When the last(?) Truffula Tree is felled, however, the Thneed factories shut down and the Once-ler's relatives leave for new ventures. By the time the story begins, all that remains of the forest is a field of tree stumps, the ruins of the Thneed factories, wild weeds (called Grickal Grass) growing, and the Once-ler himself. The Once-ler has become a bitter, sad old man who sits around in his home, sometimes telling his and the Lorax's story to passersby in the hope that they may be able to fix his terrible mistakes.
  • Meaningful Name: The Once-ler.
  • The Moral Substitute: The Truax tried to be this to the story, to dubious results.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The Once-ler, as he has seen the results of his deforestation efforts.
  • Nature Spirit: The Lorax.
  • No Antagonist: True, the Once-ler is a Villain Protagonist, but it is made clear that he was an ambitious person and once he got big he couldn't shut down the process, displease his customers, and put many out of work. It's more of a cautionary tale of someone taking so much without seeing what they are taking away even if he originally didn't mean to cause any harm.
  • Place Worse Than Death: I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie. note 
  • Polluted Wasteland: The land that was once populated by Truffula trees and various animals becomes one when all the trees are cut down, sludge is dumped into the water and pollutants are pumped into the air.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The Once-ler starts off with a factory and even makes a super axe hacker to chop down the Truffula trees four times as fast when the stock market quotes Thneeds, Inc. as up by 27 5/8 points... and then, just as the last Truffula tree has been cut down, the Lorax gave a sad backward glance and lifted himself by the seat of his pants through the smog clouds as the animals have migrated out of what was once paradise, and the Once-ler is left all alone with the lingering industrial waste pollution and the ruins of his abandoned factory.
  • Rags to Riches: The Once-ler sold his first Thneed for $3.98, and from there, he kept biggering and biggering his production and his money...
    • Riches to Rags: ...Until the last Truffula Tree was cut down, and it all came to an end. Now he's charging 15 cents and a nail and the shell of a great-great-great grandfather snail for people to listen to his talk about the Lorax.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: It's almost a complete Downer Ending, except for UNLESS. The Once-ler managed to save one Truffula seed and gives it to the boy who was listening to his story, telling him to plant it and start a new forest in the hopes the Lorax and the animals that once lived there will come back.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Lorax gives multiple ones to the Once-ler about the pollution he's causing, but after he gives one about why he's polluting the Humming Fishes' pond, the latter then reaches his Rage-Breaking Point and retaliates at him with this:
    Now listen here, dad!
    All you do is yap-yap and say, 'Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!'
    Well, I have my rights, sir, and I'm telling you,
    I intend to go on doing just what I do!
    And, for your information, you Lorax, Im figgering
    on biggering
    and BIGGERING,
    turning MORE Truffula Trees into Thneeds
    which everyone, EVERYONE, EVERYONE needs!
  • Riddle for the Ages: The Lorax is famous for its ambiguous ending involving the boy receiving the last remaining Truffula Seed after the story and whether or not he decides to plant said seed and grow a better, cleaner world.
    • Also if the boy does plant the seed, will it bring back all the forest animals?
    • And another thing: what exactly does the Once-ler look like?, It's purposely left a mystery for the audience.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: The entire point of the story is to do this.
  • Single Specimen Species: By the end, all that's left of the Truffula forests is a single seed, which the Once-ler gives to the boy to replant.
  • Soulful Plant Story: Towards the end, it zeroes in on the last Truffula tree being cut down, then later on the last seed that has to be planted in order to save the day.
  • Sugar Bowl: The land started out as this... and became a Sugar Apocalypse by the time the Once-ler's story ends.
  • Tempting Fate: The Once-ler does this near the end with his rant how he'll just keep growing and growing his company (it's quite jarring in the animated special as he sounds like a madman) right before the final Truffula Tree is cut down. With no trees, there's no way to make Thneeds, and his company goes broke not long after.
  • Tragic Villain: The Once-ler was just a simple, ambitious entrepreneur looking to make an good business, only for his unchecked desire to utterly destroy the land. By the time of the Framing Device, he's a broken, remorseful recluse.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: "What are you doin' in my tree stump, buddy?"
  • Villain Protagonist: Technically The Once-ler, as the story is told from his recollection.
  • Voice for the Voiceless: The Lorax, who speaks for the trees.