Bartholomew and the Oobleck
by Dr. Seuss
You know a character is important when a king regularly addresses him by his full name.
Bartholomew Cubbins is what the literary experts call a "normative character." Even though he lives in a castle and is a page boy who we're hoping (but doubting) is well-compensated with a nice salary, benefits, and a 401(k), Bartholomew Cubbins represents your child. And it's through his eyes that we see the story.
Bartholomew also has the not-so-fun role of being the moral core, the only guy with convictions and a voice. And the fact that he's a kid—well, that will tickle your little one's fancy, that's for sure. Check out our "Why Should I Care?" for a little more on that.
Beginning: Protesting Accommodator
From the story's opening pages, Bartholomew is sensitive to the King's follies and doesn't hide his objections. When the King complains about the weather always being the same, Bartholomew counters with:
"But, King Derwin…You've always had the same four things come down." (8)
Later, when the King decides to call his magicians, it's Bartholomew who shivers and cries out in dismay, "'Your magicians, Your Majesty? Oh, no, Your Majesty! Don't call them!'" (17).
But, as much as Bartholomew voices his objections, he still yields to the King's orders. He is, after all, caught in the wrong end of a hierarchical power structure, which tends to be no fun.
"Yes, Sire," Bartholomew bowed. (19)
Middle: Protesting Behind the Scenes
Once the oobleck splats onto the scene, Bartholomew starts taking charge. He runs from the royal bell ringer to the royal trumpeter and so forth, fixing all sorts of messes. When the adults say they want to do something stupid, Bartholomew issues direct commands.
For instance, when the royal trumpeter says that he's going to stick his hand down his oobleck-jammed trumpet, Bartholomew shouts, "No!...Don't you touch it!" (74).
He doesn't back down from these commands, either, which is growth. But he won't make much of a difference if he doesn't behave the same way in front of the person who made this whole mess: the authority. The King.
End: Protesting Right Up Front… and Not Budging!
At the end of the book, Bartholomew finally goes a step beyond his smaller protestations. While the King is upset, he's still looking outside of himself to cast blame. Bartholomew not only calls this out, he also holds his position when the King gets angry at him:
"You may be a mighty king," he said. "But you're sitting in oobleck up to your chin. And so is everyone else in your land. And if you won't even say you're sorry, you're no sort of a king at all!"
Bartholomew Cubbins turned his back. He started for the throne room door. (117-118)
Go, Bartholomew Cubbins, go!
No room for ambiguity or accommodation here. Bartholomew is sticking by his convictions—the ones he's had from the very start—and the King is finally forced to confront his selfishness. While this couldn't have happened without a little character growth on the King's part, it also couldn't have happened without a change in Bartholomew.
Nor could it have happened without a willingness to say, "Something is wrong in the way this system has been set up. I don't care about my lowly position. I'm going to speak up."
Now that's what we call political empowerment. (Check out our section on "Meaning" for much, much more on that.)