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Literature / Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories

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Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories is a book of rhyming stories by Dr. Seuss. It was published in 1958. The book consists of three short tales:

  1. "Yertle the Turtle": The title story tells of a turtle king who becomes obsessed with building his throne higher and higher, and does so by stacking more and more other turtles.
  2. "Gertrude McFuzz": A young bird named Gertrude, growing tired of her plain little tail, gets some help from a pillberry bush, and quickly discovers she's bitten off more than she can chew.
  3. "The Big Brag": A rabbit and a bear argue with each other about their greatness until a worm puts their argument to rest.
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This book contains examples of the following tropes:

  • History Repeats: Very subtly done in "Yertle the Turtle." After Yertle is dethroned and sent tumbling down into the swamp mud, the turtles that had previously made up his throne are swimming happily in the pond, with their eyes closed... Except for Mack (whom the other turtles are swimming towards), who is sitting on Yertle's old "throne" and looking upwards towards the sky. Considering Seuss's background as a political cartoonist (and that he admitted the story is an allegory for Hitler), the implication isn't difficult to spot...
  • Land, Sea, Sky: "Yertle the Turtle" focuses on turtles (sea), "Gertrude McFuzz" on birds (sky), and "The Big Brag" on a rabbit and a bear (land).
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The set of stories are among the few Seuss wrote to have comeuppance plots. In each one a prideful character's delusions of grandeur serves to get them humiliated:
    • Yertle callously uses the other turtles to make an enormous throne. Mack, the one at the bottom whose discomfort Yertle had constantly ignored, eventually burps, causing the throne to collapse, and Yertle to land in the mud, a laughing stock.
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    • Gertrude wants a large tail, and continues growing it larger and larger until she can no longer carry it's weight and needs all but her original feather plucked out to become mobile again.
    • The bear and rabbit argue over who is the greatest, their ridiculous boasting however only gets them heckled by a worm.
  • Reality Ensues: Gertrude wants a longer tail. She gets her wish...only for her new tail to weigh her down.
  • The Resenter: Gertrude McFuzz is unhappy with her plain tail, and it doesn't help that another young bird, Lolla-Lee-Lou, has a longer and more feathery one.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: In the 50th Anniversary edition of the book, Seuss scholar Charles D. Cohen pointed out that Yertle and Gertrude each display six of the seven sins. (The seventh, lust, is excluded as these are children's stories.)
    • Yertle:
      • Greed: He wants to be a more powerful king.
      • Pride: Every time he expands his kingdom, he boasts about how powerful he is.
      • Sloth: He spends the whole story sitting on his throne.
      • Wrath: Every time Mack complains, no matter how politely, Yertle screams at him.
      • Gluttony: Yertle always wants more turtles for his throne.
      • Envy: He is jealous of the moon for being higher than him.
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    • Gertrude:
      • Envy: At the beginning, she is jealous of Lolla's tail.
      • Greed: She decides she absolutely needs a similar tail.
      • Wrath: When Dr. Dake advises against Gertrude getting a new tail, she throws such a huge tantrum that he finally gives in.
      • Gluttony: She eats all the berries.
      • Pride: She is so proud of her new tail that she thinks Lolla will die when she sees it.
      • Sloth: Her tail makes it hard for her to move.
      • In fact, if the original Latin word luxuria is taken to mean "extravagance" rather than "lust", Gertrude also has that sin: she grows a huge tail with three dozen feathers.
  • Super Senses: In "The Big Brag", the rabbit claims to have impressive hearing, and the bear has a spectacular sense of smell. The worm at the end claims to have the ability to see clear around the world, but he uses it as a lead in to call the others out for wasting time arguing who's better.
  • Turtle Power: Played with; Yertle the Turtle but he isn't outright evil, just greedy. He was, however, an allegorical stand in for Hitler as Dr. Seuss stated in an interview.
  • Unknown Rival: Gertrude appears to be this to Lolla-Lee-Lou, as there is no indication that the latter is even aware of the former's existence.
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: After eating every single one of the pillberries on the bush, Gertrude has grown herself a gigantic, magnificent tail — only to discover that it's too big for her to fly or even move from the spot. Luckily, her Uncle Dake hears her distress and brings help.
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