The Butter Battle Book
by Dr. Seuss
They say that kid's say the darnedest things. But you know what? So do old people.
The majority of The Butter Battle Book shines the spotlight on Grandpa as the narrator of the story. But we also hear about G-Man from the young Yook, who's telling the story to us. Do the two visions of Grandpa match? Let's take a look.
Grandpa the Soldier
Grandpa sets himself in his own story as a soldier and war hero. He has dedicated his entire life to the Yook-Zook conflict, and boy is he adamant about it:
So you can't trust a Zook who spreads bread underneath!
Every Zook must be watched!
He has kinks in his soul!
That's why, as a youth, I made watching my goal,
watching Zooks for the Zook-Watching Border Patrol! (25-29)
Never a dull moment on the Zook-Watching Border Patrol, right? At least that's how Grandpa frames his life, and that's the only perspective we get of this particular history. Old Man Yook got into the conflict early, "as a youth" (28), and it's absolutely his defining characteristic.
What's It Worth?
Grandpa can only see himself as an adversary to the Zooks—VanItch in particular. It's no wonder he can't stop the arms race; his identity is totally defined by how he relates to the Zooks.
Grandpa explains, "With my Triple-Sling Jigger / I sure felt much bigger" (52-3). That's right: all it takes is a little bit of dominance to make Grandpa feel good about himself. But this is an arms race, after all, so dominance has to be in a state of flux. As the race approaches its climax, Grandpa gets matched by VanItch, and his mood changes quite a bit: he "was downright despondent, / disturbed, / and depressed" (154-6).
Yep. When he isn't the top dog, Gramps feels bad about himself. His self-worth is pretty wrapped up in the conflict with the Zooks—at least from his point of view. Let's see what we can learn about old man Yook but that's not the only view of Grandpa that we get.
Grandpa the Yook
Grandpa's also a xenophobe and nationalist—not a friendly combination. He totally abhors outsiders, represented by the Zooks kept out by the Wall:
You can't trust a Zook who spreads bread underneath!
Every Zook must be watched! He has kinks in his soul! (25-7).
Cue the witch-hunt. For Grandpa, this tiny difference represents moral depravity. That's quite a leap, Gramps. It sounds like he's internalized the fear associated with Yook-Zook conflict—Yooks are good and Zooks are bad and there's nothing that can change that. Unless, maybe, the Zooks start buttering their bread differently?
A Sunnier Yook
War-torn Grandpa Yook isn't the only side we see. Don't forget, little Yook gives us his own take on Grandpa at the beginning. Check out how he describes the elder Yook:
For a while he stood silent.
Then finally he said,
with a very sad shake
of his very old head (5-8)
Where'd the aggression go? Is that sadness and resignation we see in him? Does he regret being part of the conflict? Is the Wall and the division it represents a cause of sadness? Oh, and are we allowed to feel sorry for him?