published in Volume 2, Issue 4 on July 27, 1995
Green Eggs And Ham is a book which certainly caught me by surprise. I hardly expected a book with a bright orange cover and a goofy feline in the upper-right corner saying "I Can Read It All By Myself: Beginner Books" to be such a stunningly frank analysis of human sexual maturation. But Seuss certainly defies the reader's expectations, and he does so wonderfully.
The book begins with one character rolling across the pages with a sign reading "I am Sam" (3) and then "Sam I am" (7). Seuss starts off with a blatant Judeo-Christian Yahweh image, recalling God's response to Moses on Mt. Sinai when Moses asked who was speaking to him, and God replied with a resounding, "I AM" (Exodus 3:14). Here, Seuss gives us a softer "I am," cleverly mixing the Christian with the pre-Christian in the form of Sam, a character who begins with the omnipotent cry of the Biblical God but whose name and playfulness hint that he is also to be considered a Pan-like character.
We then see Sam approach the book's other character, an unnamed Everyman whom he offers the green eggs and ham. The eggs are clearly symbolic of the female ovum, the ham (the meat) being the male penis, and the green coloration is a common symbol of springtime, new life, the awakening of sexual urges. So Sam is not simply offering food, Sam is questioning our young Everyman about sexual desires.
At first, Everyman only sees these urges as an unwelcome distraction, proclaiming, "...That Sam-I-am!/ I do not like/ that Sam-I-am!" and then denouncing the green eggs and ham, striking out at and denying the strangeness and discomfort of the biological stirrings working within (9).
And so Sam begins testing Everyman. He begins in a simple yet existential way, asking, "Would you like them/ here or there?" effectively asking if Everyman would prefer that sex be in a conservative, imaginable fashion in the "here" or in the unexpected, the different, distant, far-out "there" (14).
But Everyman refuses to even consider it, turning away from Sam.
No sooner has Everyman's back turned, though, and Sam appears again and demands attention. This time, he asks, "Would you like them/ in a house?" (19). Sam attempts to see if Everyman's doubts about sex stem from the fear of possibly starting a family and being financially unable to care for them; if Everyman was prosperous, owned a house, would that soothe Everyman's negativity towards sex?
Sam also takes this opportunity to ask, "Would you like them/ with a mouse?" indicating a timid partner for Everyman (19). Sam wonders if the sexual experience scares Everyman, and perhaps a submissive, non-threatening partner, symbolized by the mouse, would be what Everyman needs to be comfortable with his/her own sexuality.
But, again, the answer is resoundingly negative, a denouncement of the natural gifts represented the by green eggs and ham.
Our plucky little Pan is far from satisfied, though, and returns in Everyman's path, asking, "Would you eat them in a box?" (22). His earlier question about the house was, perhaps, not relevant; so Sam wonders if Everyman would prefer simple, more hardy circumstances. Nothing fancy, nothing expensive, just the spare setting of a box.
Like before, he joins this with a second question, asking, "Would you eat them with a fox", an obvious counter to the timid mouse-partner of before (22). Now Sam asks if Everyman would prefer a wilder partner, someone beautiful and inventive; the fox representing not only beauty in the American fashion, but the wisdom and cunning of older, European folklore.
But Everyman simply repudiates all of Sam's offers:
Not in a box. Not with a fox. Not in a house. Not with a mouse. I would not eat them here or there. I would not eat them anywhere. I would not eat green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am. (24)
Everyman claims empirical control over these boiling urges. By stating, "I would not eat them anywhere", Everyman steadfastly refuses to give in to any aspect of sexual curiosity. Even so, we can see that it's unsettling, as the frantic and lengthy reply to Sam shows.
And then Sam tries a different angle. He wonders if what Everyman needs to "turn on" is something technological, modern, perhaps electrical or synthetic. He asks the bold question, "Would you? Could you/ in a car?" (26). Sam hints in Freudian terms that perhaps sex could spur on Everyman's movement of the ego through the transportation symbol of the car.
But, as before, Everyman rejects this.
So Sam counters with, "You may like them/ in a tree!" (28). If technology may seem a bit shaky to Everyman, it seems logical that nature, symbolized by the tree, is what it takes to make this Everyman recognize and respond to his inner stirrings, inner stirrings which can be said to be nothing more than common and natural in all living creatures.
Steadfast and determined, Everyman again rejects Sam's questions, but the lengthy answer (again rejecting the box, fox, house, mouse, etc.) shows that Sam's (nature's) persistence is unsettling Everyman.
So Sam immediately hits with, "A train! A train!/ A train! A train!/ Could you, would you, on a train?" (33). Sam is tempting Everyman by exclaiming (four times! just like there are four compass directions, four corners of the world, etc.) a symbol of even larger ego movement than the car! Here, Seuss uses a strong symbol of fertility; with its phallic shape and sexual rhythm, when trains were first introduced to less developed nations, sometimes women would gather near the train tracks and lift their skirts as the train passed, believing the virile train would fertilize them. So here, Sam tests to see if what Everyman desires is great power, growth, and fertility.
Again, Everyman curtly refuses, lamenting, "Not on a train!! Not in a tree!/ Not in a car! Sam! Let me be!/ I would not, could not, in a box," etc. (34).
This train section's placement is particularly important. In Sam's inquest, I mark nine clear sections (counting the car and tree as one section, similar to "box and fox" and "house and mouse" since they are clearly paired up as opposites) and this is the fifth, the central one. This section clarifies that the issue preventing Everyman from giving in to Sam's questioning is deeper than a physical impotence, as Everyman is here symbolically offered great virility. It's Seuss' way of letting us know that we should be looking deeper when Everyman replies "I would not, could not."
Sam then continues, testing to see if what Everyman wants is mystery, perhaps danger, asking, "Would you, could you, in the dark?" (36). There's no reason to believe that Sam here refers to a sinful dark, it seems more a darkness where inhibitions are lowered, a more soothing venue in which Everyman could feel more comfortable and less self-conscious about sexual expression. It could also be a dark of fear, as Sam must honestly admit that sexual expression has many frightening aspects in the forms of diseases, unwanted pregnancies, the pain of giving birth, etc.; Sam moves from the easier, fluffier approach to a more honest one with this.
And Everyman gives the constant reply, "I would not, could not..." (37).
Sam then tries to see if sex for more hedonistic reasons would appeal to Everyman. "Would you, could you,/ in the rain?" (38). In almost all mythologies, water represents life, as that's what rivers and spring rains bring to agricultural societies. So would Everyman have sex if, not just being life-creating in the form of offspring, it were a life-giving act for Everyman, a refreshment, a germination, a baptism into new life, new awareness?
Here, then, Sam stops and asks simply, "You do not like/ green eggs and ham?" (40) to the expected reply of, "I do not/ like them,/ Sam-I-am" (41). I find it fascinating that Sam here returns to the basic question. This underscores how far Sam has come from that basic question and shown many facets to human sexuality.
And then Sam continues, "Could you, would you,/ with a goat?" a surprising and pivotal question at this point (42). At first we wonder why Seuss would bring in such a bizarre animal here, but the answer, of course, comes from the ancient Greeks. As most competent drama students could tell you, the Greeks had a ceremony where they would take a goat and ritually place the collective sins and problems of the village on the poor beast, then beat it and send it away as a purification of the village. Here, Sam tries to show sex as a purifying act, asking Everyman to see that sins and hang-ups have no place here, they can be exorcised as God is not the prudish God of some interpretations but an earthier God who asks us to embrace our sexual natures.
And then, finally, Sam asks, "Would you, could you,/ on a boat" (44). Sam indicates a more massive movement of the ego than either the car or the train of before. Slower, yes, but larger. Plus the entire purpose of the boat is to travel on top of the water, on top of life-giving forces vastly larger than the rain Sam brought up earlier.
Yet Everyman still replies:
I would not, could not, on a boat. I will not, will not, with a goat. I will not eat them in the rain. I will not eat them on a train. Not in the dark! Not in a tree! Not in a car! You let me be! I do not like them in a box. I do not like them with a fox. I will not eat them in a house. I do not like them with a mouse. I do not like them here or there. I do not like them ANYWHERE! (46) I do not like green eggs and ham! (49) I do not like them, Sam-I-am. (50)
As Everyman says this, notice how it slows down from an orderly list of what Everyman does not like to the shifting of the structure into smaller, enjambed lines. This change is actually best conveyed by the illustration which Seuss uses at this point in the book. His drawing shows the boat, which Sam had just brought up, sinking to leave him and Everyman immersed in an ocean: no longer floating atop life and nature and mystery but actually swimming in it!
Here, the narrative leaves the theoretical, as Sam no longer asks, he states:
You do not like them. So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and you may, I say. (53)
And Everyman finally gives in! Out of sheer exhaustion, he takes a bite and is immediately electrified:
Say! I like green eggs and ham! I do! I like them, Sam-I-am! And I would eat them in a boat. And I would eat them with a goat... (59) And I will eat them in the rain. And in the dark. And on a train. And in a car. And in a tree. They are so good, so good, you see! (60) So I will eat them in a box. And I will eat them with a fox. And I will eat them in a house. And I will eat them with a mouse. And I will eat them here and there. Say! I will eat them ANYWHERE! (61)
It is a long journey, but Seuss shows that the persistence of nature (or our God-given biological urges) can eventually wear down anyone. As Everyman goes through the full journey of sexual maturation, Everyman discovers all the things that sexual expression can be, until, in that climactic scene, everything falls into place; Everyman is both worn down by Sam's persistence and fully aware of the complexity of all the facets to a blooming sexuality, causing Everyman to try and then to joyfully embrace the "green eggs and ham."
Through this simple narrative, Dr. Seuss has created a brilliant account of human coming- of-age. It also contains a message that sex is not something to feel ashamed of, for did not even the Judeo-Christian God ask us to "go forth and multiply" (Genesis 9:7)? Seuss shows us that a well-informed, even skeptically approached sexuality can be a good thing, as this is no ignorant, uninformed desire; Everyman is careful, realizing all that sex can be before embracing it!