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Literature / The Sneetches and Other Stories

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The Sneetches and Other Stories is a 1961 picture book by Dr. Seuss. It contains four stories, including the title one.

  1. "The Sneetches": The Sneetches live in a society strictly segregated by whether or not their stomachs have a star on them. However, a visit by Sylvester McMonkey McBean, a traveling salesman, changes things in a most unexpected way.
  2. "The Zax": A pair of Zax going through the Prairie of Prax end up directly in each other's way. Since neither will step aside for the other, they end up stuck.
  3. "Too Many Daves": Mrs. McCave suffers the consequences of her naming choices.
  4. "What Was I Scared Of?": The narrator encounters a spooky pair of animate pale green pants.
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This book contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Jerkass: The Star Bellied Sneetches are conveyed as even more exaggeratively narcissistic and petty in the Animated Adaptation, boasting and singing about themselves ceaselessly and taking exceptional pleasure bullying one child Plain Belly. They do come to the same lesson as in the book however.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: The Sneetches is based on a very short story that Seuss wrote for Redbook magazine in 1953. In that version of the story, the Plain-Bellies were just as mean to the Star-Bellies as vice versa. No one goes through any Character Development, either.
  • An Aesop: From "The Zax"—don't be stubborn. The world won't stand still just because you refuse to compromise.
  • Animated Adaptation: "The Sneetches" and "The Zax" were adapted along with Green Eggs and Ham for the animated special Dr. Seuss on the Loose.
  • "Awesome McCool" Name:
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    • One of the names Mrs. McCave contemplates for one of her sons is "Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate", which sounds pretty cool.
    • Sylvester McMonkey McBean has a name which fits his fast talking, charismatic, clever nature very well.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: The plain-bellied Sneetches took the star-bellied Sneetches mean attitude on the chin for years. When they finally get stars however, they are infuriated to find the original star-bellies took off their's and declared plain-bellies to be the top clique just so they could continue gloating and looking down on them. In retaliation they resort to following the "snooty old smarties" into every machine they go into to try and maintain the hierarchy, adamant they accept them at last.
  • Big Bad: Sylvester McMonkey McBean in The Sneetches.
  • Bird People: The Sneetches look like humanoid birds.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In the end, McBean successfully cons the Sneetches out of all their money with his Star Machine gambit, leaving them penniless, but the experience teaches them how stupid and pointless racial discrimination is, and they learn to live as equals from that point on.
  • Canon Foreigner: McBean, believe it or not! In the Redbook version of The Sneetches mentioned above, he is completely absent.
  • Dancing Pants: The Pale Green Pants With Nobody Inside Them from "What Was I Scared Of?" Scary-looking, but quite harmless.
  • Determinator:
    • This trope is portrayed negatively in "The Zax"; both Zax are too stubborn to step aside and let the other pass, and simply stand there for years, refusing to budge, until an entire city is built around them!
    • "The Sneetches" is another negative example, as the original Star Bellies are so adamant on keeping top of the social hierarchy, and the original Plain Bellies breaking it, that they ultimately end up zipping competitively in and out of Mc Bean's machine for days on end. Unlike the Zax, both sides do ultimately concede to how pointless the feud is, but only after they've been drained of all their money.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Presumably, if Mrs. McCave had thought a bit more about how difficult it would be to call one of her sons when all of them have the same name, she would have chosen separate ones.
  • Downer Ending:
    • A fairly light example; "Too Many Daves" closes with Mrs. McCave regretting giving all twenty-three of her sons the same name, but she can't do anything about it.
    • "The Zax" ends with the strong implication that the two Zax will forever be trapped in their standstill, a bustling highway built around them, all because they were too stubborn to budge.
  • False Friend: McBean is this to both breed of the sneetches. When he first arrives at the beach, he claims to be there with the intent of helping the plain-bellied sneetches gain equality with a machine that will give them belly stars for a low price. After this, he meets with the original star-bellies, claiming he desires to help them regain the special status with a machine that will remove their belly stars and distinguish them. Then he invites the original plain bellies whom he had previously helped to try the star off machine to help them achieve equality (again). From that point on, the original star bellies keep paying McBean to have their stars put on or removed to be distinguished, only for the original plain bellies to pay McBean to emulate so that they will be equal. Once both sides have completely run out of money, he abandons them without a second thought.
  • Fantastic Racism: "The Sneetches" is a thinly disguised allegory on racism (or classism). It describes a conflict between two subgroups of the titular Sneetches, a race of bird-like humanoids. One group has stars on their bellies, and thinks themselves superior because of it, while the other group doesn't. The Aesop comes after a huckster with the unlikely name of "Sylvester McMonkey McBean" convinces those without stars to pay him to have stars added to their bodies. Then it's no longer so special, since everyone has stars, but McBean has a machine to remove them as well, for a modest consideration. The two groups proceed to repeatedly alter who has stars and who doesn't, along with which of the two conditions are more desirable. By the time McBean packs up his operation and leaves, they don't remember who had stars to begin with and who didn't, and thus abandon their prejudices as worthless.
  • Flash In The Pan Fad: In "The Sneetches", the presence (or absence) of stars on their bellies. Once the Sneetches are able to add (or remove) stars, overall opinion starts flip-flopping on which is preferable. They wind up getting stars added and removed multiple times over the course of just a few days.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: The Sneetches teaches us that sometimes it takes a really unfortunate circumstance in life (like being cheated out of all your money) to learn the error of your ways.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: The narrator in "What Was I Scared Of?" keeps running into a ghostly pair of Pale Green Pants which he is terrified of... Until the end, when he discovers that the pants are just as terrified of him. (Luckily, the story has a happy ending, with the two of them coming to terms with the fears and becoming friends.)
  • "I Am Great!" Song: Most of the songs in the Animated Adaptation of The Sneetches are the Star Bellied Sneetches flaunting how sacred and important it is to have a star on their bellies (and later how it isn't).
  • I Just Want to Be Special: The Sneetches dilemma is a social order caused by some Sneetches having stars on their bellies. The plain bellies want to be in the top group like the star bellies, but the star bellies want to be the different elite group, which they can't be if everyone has stars.
  • I Lied: In a case of lying to yourself. "I'm not afraid of pale green pants with nobody inside them! I said, and said, and said those words. I said them, but I lied them."
  • Karma Houdini: Sylvester McMonkey McBean gets no comeuppance for fleecing the Sneetches of their money. Granted, his business technically wasn't a scam, just exploitative.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Mrs. McCave has 23 boys, all of them named Dave. This proves to be a problem when she wants one Dave in particular and calls him.
  • Motive Decay: The Star-bellied Sneetches initially use their stars to flaunt their superiority over the plain bellied ones. When the latter actually obtain stars, however, the original star-bellies protest, believing they are still the better Sneetches regardless, and remove their stars and consider plain bellies to now be the top option. The process repeats until none of the Sneetches on either side can even remember what belly pattern they had originally.
  • Moving the Goalposts: The plain-bellied Sneetches use McMonkey McBean's machine to gain stars akin to what are considered the top social class. The original star-bellies have no interest in being equals however, and use the machine to remove their's, deeming plain bellies the top of the chain now. The situation reduces to both sides rapidly going in and out of the machine to break or maintain the hierarchy respectively, until eventually even the original star-bellies realise their elitism just isn't worth the hassle.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: McMonkey McBean swindles the sneetches out of all their money while laughing about the sneetches' gullibility and how they will never learn. Ironically because his money making scheme, the sneetches can't remember who ever had a star in the first place and because they wasted their money obsessing over the stars, they learned how pointless it was to discriminate in the first place and will treat each other equally from now on.
  • One Steve Limit: Mrs. McCave violated the rule of not having more than one character have the same name by naming all of her sons "Dave." She's regretting it by the end of the story.
  • Prejudice Aesop: The first story, "The Sneetches", is about creatures called "Sneetches", some of which have star shapes on their bellies and believe they're better than the ones without. A monkey-like creature named Sylvester McBean gives them a machine that gives the plain-bellied ones stars, but they start to fight and add and remove stars until they have no idea who is who. They then learn not to discriminate based on appearance.
  • Sealed Evil in a Duel: An unintentional, less "good vs. evil" variant happens to the title characters of "The Zax". A North-Going Zax and a South-Going Zax bump into each other, and each is too stubborn to go around the other, since this would require them to move slightly to either the east or west. After a brief argument the two are simply stuck glaring at each other, as years pass and other people build highways around them.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Zigzagged with Sylvester McMonkey McBean in the Sneetches story. What he sells truly works and does exactly what he claims, but he cleverly uses his Star-On Machine and Star-Off Machine to milk the Sneetches for everything they've got, playing on their attitude towards those dumb stars.
  • Snobs Vs Slobs: The Star-bellied Sneetches vs the Plain-bellied Sneetches. A strange juxtaposing example as the "snobs" of the rivalry are even willing to trade identities just to avoid associating with the "slobs".
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: When the plain-bellied Sneetches actually gain stars, the original Star-bellied Sneetches are outraged. With all Sneetches the same, they can't be the "best" Sneetches, so remove their stars and claim plain-bellies superior to maintain the hierarchy. After this process continues over and over however, even the original Star-bellies realise it isn't worth it and accept equality.
  • Tempting Fate: A rare positive example. When McBean is driving off with all of the money he earned from his star machine-gambit, he dismissively laughs to himself that the sneetches will never learn...but the narrator immediately says that McBean is quite wrong and the sneetches have indeed learned how stupid they've been to obsess over those stars and decide to forget about them and treat each other equally from then on.
  • Uninvited to the Party: The star-bellied Sneetches are prejudiced against the plain-bellied ones, so they never invite them to their parties. Upon the plain bellies finally getting stars, the original star bellies are particularly disgusted by the notion that now they'll have to invite them.
  • X Must Not Win: Two cases played to extremes:
    • In The Sneetches the plain bellied Sneetches find a means to gain stars on their bellies like their elitist kin, but the original star bellies still want to be top of the hierarchy, leading them to proclaim plain bellies to be top of the chain and take their's off. The two sides begin rapidly taking their stars on and off, eventually so insistent on outdoing the other's social gaining that they don't even remember who had stars in the first place. It's only after they've lost every last penny they had with the process that they realise how stupid the war is.
    • The Zax are so egomaniacal and stubborn that they refuse to step aside for each, listing down trivial reasons they have right of way and eventually sticking at their spot for eons in their refusal to let the other have the last word.
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