Bartholomew and the Oobleck
by Dr. Seuss
Although our main squeeze Bartholomew grows along with a classic story structure (beginning, middle, end), the King has only two acts: beginning and end. Let's take a look.
Beginning: Control Freaks R Us
Where do we even start with this guy? The King is stubborn, selfish, overindulged, in love with himself and his own power, childish, and bored. Great combo.
All of this together makes him just about the worst control freak authoritarian the world has ever seen. Heck, he takes it as a personal affront that the weather won't change to fulfill his deepest (or most superficial) desires.
"This snow! This fog! This sunshine! This rain! BAHH! These four things that come down from the sky!" (7)
When Bartholomew gently reminds him that, while he can rule all the land and all the people but not the sky (12), the King flies into a terrible rage and determines to prove Bartholomew wrong. How dare this page boy question his authoritah?
This only gets worse as the magicians indulge him and the oobleck starts falling—just more confirmation of his power. He's back in control again… and still a monster.
If you need any more proof of this, just look at how the King titles all of the people who work for him, excluding Bartholomew. He doesn't have a trumpeter, he has a royal trumpeter. He has a royal laundress. He is so obsessed with himself and with his role at the top of the pyramid that anyone who comes near him must have that royal stamp.
To that we say, "By our royal whiskers!"
End: Beware the goopiness of goop!
Sometimes, it takes a loud voice and a whole lot of oobleck to get someone to make a change. And that's exactly what gets the King going.
Only by going to the very depths—clinging to his throne in a pile of goop—does the King realize he's goofed up. And, of course, his throne, the seat of power, has been utterly defiled. That's what Teddy Geisel thinks of authority. (Check out our section on "Meaning" for more goopy details.)
But this guy is so self-obsessed and egomaniacal that Bartholomew has to (metaphorically) shove his face right into the oobleck before he'll admit that the problem is inside of him, not outside:
But then Bartholomew heard a great, deep sob. The old King was crying! "Come back, Bartholomew Cubbins! You're right! It is all my fault! And I am sorry! Oh, Bartholomew, I'm awfully, awfully sorry!" (119)
Instantly, the oobleck melts away. And rather than returning to his old ways once it's gone, the King declares a national holiday "in honor of the four perfect things that come down from the sky" (134). The holiday is in honor of the way things are—of not having to feel better than anyone, not having to own everything, and not always having to get his way.
Now that's character growth.
(Whether or not he would have switched to a representative government in Seuss's unwritten third Bartholomew installment, we'll never know.)
Is King Derwin Your Kid?
Even though Bartholomew is the kid in the story, we're pretty sure the King is more like your actual kid. Let's take a look:
- Whiny? Check.
- Stubborn? Check.
- Demanding? Check.
- Picky? Check.
- Sticky? Check.
Even if you don't want to read into Seuss's strangely wonderful brain, we can all agree that there's a lesson to be learned here: don't be like Derwin.