Green Eggs and Ham: A Warning About the American Melting Pot
By David Jewison
After the Second World War, many Jews were left breathless in the wake of atrocities that occurred, and America was very much on the verge of the Cold War. Americans knew that they needed more than just military help to secure a victory; they also needed a strong financial frame from which to launch into an arms race with the great bear of Russia. How was America—who indulged in racist stereotyping—to do this? Why, just invite the Jews over to run the banks (keep in mind the United States of America had no conscience about applying the mind of Albert Einstein to kick-start the arms race). Going to America may have seemed an appealing notion at the time, since many Jews were leaving a country where we had just been shoved into gas chambers. “Coming To America,” as Neil Diamond suggested, seemed like a great idea, but what would be the cost? In the great nation of Canada, multi-culturalism is welcomed, and it holds a mosaic of nations, cultures, and religions within the walls of one great country. America’s melting pot is a little less inviting, however. Would we have to sacrifice our heritage? Our faith? Our culture? The American melting pot had no concern for our plight, but only for their own good. Theodore Geisel (also known as Dr. Seuss) offered a warning in his seminal work Green Eggs and Ham, in which he articulated exactly what happened to the Jewish immigrants headed to America shortly after the end of the Second World War. Using a children’s story as his vehicle (as he did with so many other issues he had written about), Geisel warned the people of his faith about issues we were not aware of through cartoons and a jovial rhetoric that disguised his warning so as to sneak it past the censors of the American propaganda machine.
The book starts off with a small cartoon character prancing about atop a beast that is yellow in colour (an obvious racially charged reference to the country’s victory and dominance over the yellow skinned enemy of Japan), holding a sign that pronounces ‘I am Sam.’ There is no icon that represents Americana more than the patriotic ‘Uncle Sam.’ Here, in one cartoon figure, the American propaganda entices the Jewish community with two of its most important and popular figures; Samuel and Abraham. The first is very obvious, as Sam is a short form for Samuel, or Shmuel as it is spelt in Hebrew. Though the cartoon in Geisel’s book doesn’t match up to the popular version of ‘Uncle Sam,’ it’s as clear as the nine flames of the menorah that good old ‘Uncle Sam,’ is a character based off of the president who brought freedom to the slaves; Abraham Lincoln. Coincidentaally, this great leader (America’s first president that could honestly be called great as instead of owning slaves he delivered them into freedom), shares his name with the first of all Jews; Abraham. The phrase “I am,” is taken straight from the Torah, in a verse where God speaks to our people and says he is the “I am.” ‘Sam,’ journeys around the corner where an unnamed Jew sits in annoyance at this outlandish display, only to see Sam come back with a sign that reads the reverse; ‘Sam I am,’ now travelling on a pink coloured bear. The colour pink is indicative of communism, and Geisel, in his political drawing always depicted Russia as a great bear. Sam sitting on top of this wilting bear is clearly an indication that America felt it was the world military leader, even over the ‘pink-os’ of communist Russia. This Judaism-friendly figure, bearing the resemblance of two great Jewish leaders, will be America’s ally in winning over the Jews that survived the holocaust as the book progresses.
The unnamed Jew that Sam is in pursuit of sits reading a paper that is illegible to the American eye. As this story is being told through the perception of an American, what is written on the paper is as unimportant as how it is written. This articulates what little interest America had in the Judaist culture; only the benefits America believed it would receive from the people of this great faith were of importance to the Yankees. What, you may ask, indicates that this character who Sam is in pursuit of is at all Jewish? It is as painful to the eye as the avelut is to the heart, but this cartoon only encourages Jewish stereotypes. Perhaps to the North American eye it is harder to see, but we Jews are so used to the cartoonish features the world attributes to us that they jump right out onto our challah tray. The sleepy eyes, sour frown, olive coloured skin, the hook nose (or at least as hook as one can be when the character is meant to resemble a dog to some degree). The ears are curled and long, hanging all the way down to the chin, not unlike the payos that were worn by many Jews at the time (a tradition that the American culture laughed at until it was all but nonexistent). The large top hat was also very common around the time of the Jewish migration to America after the Second World War, usually to cover the Yarmulke, or kippah as some Jews refer to it. Once worn at all times, out of both respect and fear of our great king, the God of Abraham, now it is worn by most only during services since it has become a punch line amongst the prejudicial North American community. Short of making the character (who remains unnamed throughout the book, as many of those killed in the holocaust remained unnamed in their tombs) wear an arm band that identifies him as ‘Jewish,’ (as the Nazis had done), Geisel has done everything he could possible do to identify this poor soul as a representative of the Jewish community through the eyes of a prejudicial gentile.
It is a known fact that those of us who practice Judaism do not eat ham because of our religious convictions. Americans, however, have no such conviction and don’t understand why we would hold such a belief. It is also against our religion to eat any kosher dairy products in the same sitting that we eat any kosher meat; another conviction that is not understood by those who hold the Christian faith. Yet this American gragger offers up an American plate to the unnamed victim of this book as if he were performing a Bentsch. “Do you like green eggs and ham?” Though the eggs may pass as milchig, ham is as far from fleishing as anything can get, and the two must never be eaten together. Yet Sam still offers it this doubly treif meal. How does Sam spice up this sinful dish? Well, One thing the Jewish community is recognized for (as well as made the victim of numerous jokes over), is the fact the many in the Jewish community are extremely capable of handling money effectively and making a tidy profit doing so. This is a skill that we were forced to develop (not one learned as a result of personnel greed as our reputation foretells many). Many countries where we lived did not allow us to own land. In turn, we would do the only thing we could do with our money since we weren’t allowed by law to own anything: we managed it. Eventually, people of other faiths came to those in our community to handle their money. Business was usually done on public benches as we had no offices, or buildings, (the French word bancho, which eventually becoming the English word bank, actually meant bench). America perceived this as our Achilles heel. Christian America offered us to take on their life style, tempting us with the one thing they believed we couldn’t resist; money. In America it is no secret that money is coloured green, as were the eggs and ham that were extended to the unnamed Jew that sat before Sam. The Jew was resilient though, recognizing that green is not only the colour of money, but also the colour of the sour fruit that hasn’t yet ripened. The Christian monotheism didn’t fit in with the Judaist Halakhah, and so Adam, this time at least, did not take a bite from the poisonous apple.
Sam cannot, at first, convince the unnamed Jew to try his lifestyle, so he offers a question: “Would you like them here or there?” This is shmoozing (strictly in the American cheapened interpretation of our word). Here Sam points with two elongated hands to the far areas of the page on which the scene is drawn. On one page, a red hand falls in front of a black and white back ground, making up the colours of the Nazis swastika: red, white and black. The other hand falls onto a white and blue back ground, forming the colours of the American flag: red white and blue, suggesting that if he doesn’t accept the American way he will fall back into the hands of inhumane fascists. Regardless of the situation (excluding of course survival), the unnamed Jew refuses to take on the Christian life style that Sam pushes onto him. Sam persists: “Would you like them in a house? Would you like them with a mouse?” Here again, Sam compares the life they had to the one they could have in America. In Germany, they were treated as prey by the Nazis, who referred to them as rodents. In America, however, they were allowed to own land and would not be treated as second class citizens. Still holding to his virtues, the unnamed Jew declines.
Ever the salesman, Sam continues presenting the other options which the unnamed Jew could choose from; “Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox?” The box he is referring to is of course coloured in the same fashion as the Nazi swastika, asking the Jew if he really wants to stay in that atmosphere. The other option is a pink fox, again referring to Russia, the world’s communist leader and predator which denounced religion in any form (at least at the time), and banned it from within the walls of their nation. No doubt the parable of the fox and the fish, told in the Talmud, floated into the unnamed Jew’s mind. The atmosphere in Europe was the equal of the fisherman’s nets, chasing the fish up the river. A fox, who can be paralleled with America, comes up beside the fish and offers the fish to come up on land to live with him. The fish declines, recognizing the trickery of the fox and imploring that he must stay in the element that provides him with life if he is to live. The unnamed Jew’s inner strength was level and strong at the start, but now may resemble some matzah. He is like the fish: he has no positive option, but regardless, holds onto his faith. He sees that Sam is not a mashgiach, and therefore will not take his food.
Now Sam goes to the well, offering the American dream as though it were an act of tzedaka (and no doubt this entire scene occurred during Yom Kipper), which to the American seems irresistible. Wealth and a high standard of living in a country full of resources: “In a car?…In a tree!” In Europe, it was known that not many people owned cars in comparison to those who populated America. Propelled by an excess of factories equaled only by the vast natural resources (which the tree represents, though forestry was only one of many resources that made America the envy of the rest of the world, barring Canada). The unnamed Jew is clearly aware of these benefits, but values his religious integrity more than his standard of living. Since positive reinforcement wasn’t working, Sam decides to go back to the negatives; “Could you, would you on a train…in the dark…in the rain.?” No doubt these three things would bring back frightening memories of the Holocaust, being carted off in trains, stuffed in like cattle, little if any light getting through the cramped box carts that brought them to the gas chambers. They’d line up, expecting water, but received death instead. Working constantly outside in the rain plagued climate of Germany. If this book were reality, the gentleman Sam was pursuing would no doubt be broken into tears by this moment. It is certain, after this speech, the Jewish mentsch, whose fortitude had been as strong, straight and level as the Magen of David when the book began, is now closer to resembling the characteristics of a latke. His faith, however, holds him together. In return, he passes on the life that would bring him all the physical comforts and securities that this world could afford and instead chooses spiritual salvation.
Sam continues his sales pitch, illustrating that he is as much a grager as he is a human being, and demonstrating that he has no thought or consideration for the beliefs of the unnamed Jew that America wishes to transform into a simple gear of the power-hungry machine that runs America. He asks “Could you would you with a goat?” The goat was the second animal domesticated by man (the dog was the first). Domesticating was exactly what the Americans had in mind when recruiting the Jews into their Christian nation; “Would you, could you on a boat?” What was means of travel that all foreigners took when they were too tired, or poor for the nation that bore them? Well, these poor huddled masses would travel by boat of course. This is what Sam is suggesting to the unnamed Jew. Before long, the unnamed Jew is drowning in what resembles a soup, or stew full of all kinds of American symbols. This is clearly the American melting pot at work. Now that Sam has worn down this poor man, he surrounds him by other people, watching him, like adolescents encouraging the deviant behaviour of a fellow student, waiting to see if he will actually follow in Lucifer’s path. Sam has spun a web of deceit faster than a Hebrew child spins a dreidel at Hanukah, bringing a false light to the American menorah. The unnamed Jew, now only a shadow of his former self, beaten down and weakened by the Germans in their attempt to wipe him out, is now a victim of the American melting pot. His beliefs smashed by Christian America into kugel. This was no closer to a mikvah than the gas chambers of Nazi Germany. Finally, a defeated man concedes. Swimming in this American stew that was no more a tzimmes than the green ham was a fleishig. As he takes his first bite, Geisel has all the creatures of his illustration staring at him, as so many Americans stared at the Jews’ peculiar payos and yarmulkes when they stepped off of the boat and onto the indifferent soil of New York. As he eats, the questioning glares change to cheers of joy, all the characters Sam has recruited throughout the book encouraging this new life, as none of them care of his Judaic culture.
The final page has the unnamed Jew standing next to Sam, his right arm over Sam’s shoulder, and his left arm holding the empty challar tray that once contained the ‘green eggs and ham.’ It is elevated in the air, as though it were as worthy as the Bimah. The two stand in front of a red, white and blue background, celebrating this evil transformation. The right arm is perhaps a sign perhaps that the right-winged Jewish beliefs had room to hold America’s moral system, but not without closing their eyes to do so, as Geisel’s rendition has the unnamed Jew doing. The left arm, alternately, holds what had been the left-winged and loose moral life style of Christian America. It is also important to mention that Sam is astoundingly shorter than the unnamed Jew, who he has now all but destroyed (maybe not in body, but surely in soul), implying that to be brought to the level of America, the Jewish community must bring themselves down in the process. The cover illustration makes a similar case, as it pictures the unnamed Jew slouching down and compromising his stature to be at level with the life style.
If we explore this small book using the Jewish practice of gematria (that is to find hidden meaning behind words using their numeric value), we find even more coincidences. One such coincident is with the words ‘house,’ and ‘box.’ Though the house is represented as a prize to hold and the other is compared to the prisons of the concentration camps, both equal five. House: 8+6+3+1+5 = 23. When we add these numbers together, we get five. Box: 2+6+6 = 14. If you add these numbers together, they equal five as well. In the eyes of God, neither is truly a prize. The house is no more of value to the soul than the box is. America, the new ‘home,’ for the Jews, as Sam suggests, also comes out to five when all of its letters are added up to a single digit. The word ‘fox,’ contains three letters, all of which hold a value of six; six-six-six. Being as how the fox represented either Russia or Germany in the book, and the parable in the Talmud made America out to be the fox of its story, and the number of the fox is equal to the number that Christians consider to be representative of the beast, then clearly these three nations, which at the time all posed a threat to Judaism, were all comparable to the devil. There are other interesting coincidences in the book, with some other words, but it is complicated. These ones are the most obvious and easiest to understand.
The Jewish community has been victimized throughout their entire existence. As soon as God placed his people on this Earth, the devil placed hatred toward these people. The Babylonians, the Romans, the Germans and even the Americans. The American punishment isn’t as physically cruel as slavery, but it is still torture. At least when the Romans and Germans did this, they did not hide their intent or try and compromise our beliefs (though destroying us wasn’t any better). Germany was all too forward about genocide. America wanted the same as the Germans, but theirs was a more polite genocide; liberals may even call it ethnocide, or sociocide (as though that were any better). However, they had the whole world watching them; they had to look compassionate. Bringing the Jews to America and making them rich made the Americans look like heroes to the rest of the world, maybe even like a mentsch to the Jews who were not aware of the evils lurking in this sinful state. Geisel’s Green Eggs and Ham is an allegorical narrative tells the story of the plight of the Jews who escaped the violence of fascism, only to be boiled in the American melting pot. It is a both a warning of what can happen, and a call for all to be on their guard to protect the cultural, ethnic, and religious identities.