Green Eggs and Ham
by Dr. Seuss
Green Eggs and Ham Tone
Take a story’s temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Boisterous, Exuberant Happiness and Boisterous, Exuberant Negativity
We are so pumped up. If you were at Shmoop HQ right now, you'd see us marching around, chanting:
I do like green eggs and ham!
I do! I like them, Sam-I-am! (139-142)
Oh, sorry, we got carried away there. But we can't help it—every line, every thrilling, adventurous illustration in this story carries these extreme tones. Think of how happy you feel when the goat pops out of the compartment in the car. (!) Or the sheer delight on the faces of the characters even as they plunge headlong into the sea after their train runs out of tracks. (!) We just can't stop smiling along with them. (!)
Did We Speak Too Soon?
The thorn in our little happiness theory is the big guy. He's a pretty negative dude. After all, he uses the word "not" over fifty times in the story. The negativity shows all over his face, too, with his droopy mouth and sad eyes. Up until about line 41, we're in negative Neverland.
But then something changes: he becomes boisterously, exuberantly negative. (!) He's moving, and it looks like his adrenaline has kicked in. Suddenly, he's on this crazy adventure and he has something to fight for—his right not to eat the weird food.
Take a look at the scene just before they enter the train tunnel. The big guy is saying, "I would not, could not, in a box" (77). But now, he's standing tall; his hand is raised; he is confident in his position, and he's totally unafraid of the bizarre scenario he's found himself in.
Of course, in the end, the tone of boisterous, exuberant negativity eventually gives way to boisterous, exuberant happiness. All it takes is a little adventure and some proper nourishment.
The Life of Seuss
In 1960, when Green Eggs and Ham was published, Dr. Seuss was truly at the top of his game, rolling in fame, acclaim, and green eggs and ham—the kind that you deposit in the bank. The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch were both published in 1967, just a few years before Green Eggs and Ham. And as you know—if you weren't born on Ork—both of those books were stunning commercial and critical successes.
Maybe the adventurous, fearless, confident tone that permeates this book is thanks to all of Seuss's fans egging him on. He knows what we like and he's giving it to us in full force. It's reflected in every line, as the main characters battle it out, fearlessly and confidently, until the mouthwatering end.