A few Weeks ago I posed this question on the social Q/A site Quora.com:

Assuming that “The Sneetches and Other Stories,” by Dr. Seuss has a theme that the 4 Stories adhere to, what is that theme and how does “Too Many Daves” fit that theme? The Sneetches, The Zax and What was I Scared Of all deal with prejudice, either institutional, self imposed or spontaneous, while Too Many Daves is just silly and amusing.

I have yet to get an answer.

I asked my mom, who can recite all of the stories from memory (which is necessary since the final story, “What Was I Afraid Of” is dark type on dark background and is impossible to read in dim light that lets a kid fall asleep). Her thinking is that it was just comic relief. I agree, to a certain extent, but I think that comic relief happens for a reason and that reason is the theme that binds them all together.

It doesn’t make sense

Too Many Daves is the the theme, here’s why. Sneetches, The Zax and What Was I Afraid Of all deal with real world issues in non-sequitor ways.

Sneetches is a story about racism.

  • Assumption: the value of a person can be determined from superficial physical characteristics.

The Zax is about Fear of Change.

  • Assumption: The way I have been doing things my whole life, and generational knowledge of my ancestors is all I need to get by and if i deviate from that I am less of a person, or Zax.

What Was I Afraid Of is a simple cautionary tale warning agains xenophobia. The book was published in 1961, a time when the US was in and out of wars with people who looked and acted very differently from Americans.

  • Assumption, people who look different from me are to be feared.

The role of Too Many Daves is to illustrate the folly of the assumptions in the other stories.

  • Assumption: having 23 boys and giving them all the same name could save trouble when writing names on the inside collars of shirts.

It’s a silly book. All of Dr. Seuss’ books are silly. Kids aren’t interested in real things, not because they are boring, but because real things take a lot more consideration and thought and invoke certain parts of the brain that deal with anxiety and fear that would overwhelm the theme of the story. With Sneetches, Zax and self animating pants, even very young kids understand that the basic universe of the book is not real. But, with enough repitition, they’ll recognize the theme when it popps up IRL later on. And the theme is that some of the cultural assumptions that inform the way we deal with other people are as silly as naming all your kids Dave.

-M