Dr. Seuss doesn't just tell us what we need to hear; he also shows us what we need to see. Turns out those green eggs and ham actually are green. Who knew? Each and every page of Green Eggs and Ham is illustrated, and most scenes majestically stretch across both pages. That's a lot of ham.
Just reading the words, we can follow the general don't-knock-it-till-you-try-it storyline. But the illustrations bring the whole story to life, funny hats and all.
Since Green Eggs and Ham is set in Seussville, there aren't a lot of sharp edges. Seussville is a roundish place, after all. Sam and the big guy travel together through a loopy, soft, fluffy, and colorful world. Of course, that doesn't mean it's danger-free. After all, the train tracks are propped up in some places with Band-Aids and toothpicks (101-105). Oh, and they end above the ocean. Yikes.
Seuss accomplishes this sense of danger and action with lots of scenery changes, ups and downs, ins and outs, and gravity-defying moments. Mid-air conversations, anyone?
Critic Philip Nel does a fine job arguing that Dr. Seuss was a surrealist and that the worlds he created in pictures operated with surrealist logic (source). Put simply, ordinary objects are rendered extraordinary when their colors are changed (ahem, green eggs and ham) and they are freed from real-world constraints. Characters don't get hurt when they fall, and boats don't get smashed when trains fall on them. You get the picture.
If we take it one step further, disrupting the way we think of these everyday objects—subverting the usual order—should help free up our own thinking and, ideally, encourage us to perform subversive acts of our own. Ah, the power of illustrations.
With fifty words, Seuss can't really delve deep into the emotions of his characters. Especially when ten of those fifty words are a, and, are, if, in, on, or, so, the, and with. These aren't the most… expressive terms on the planet.
Illustrations to the rescue. Through the illustrations, we can see the ins and outs of our characters, from the totally-freaked-out bug eyes of the big guy when they're on the train to the perma-smile on Sam's face.
And sometimes, the illustrations are just plain fun.
For example, who knew that, unlike ordinary-colored ham and eggs, green eggs and ham are the most resistant of foods? You can even take them underwater without a plastic baggie and nothing bad will happen to them (128-129).
And when Sam asks a question like, "Would you? Could you?/ In a car?" (50), he's not asking hypothetically. Actually, this kid isn't into hypotheticals at all. No, the big guy must be subjected to the actual car ride before Sam will accept an answer.
Think of all the craziness we'd miss without the illustrations. And as you know, we at Shmoop are all about the crazy.