Let's recap. The Sneetches live on beaches and come in two varieties: those with stars on their bellies and those without. Still with us? Okay. The Sneetches with Star-Bellies are considered the crème-de-la-crème of Sneetch society. They play ball and walk by Plain-Bellies with nary a glance or how-do-you-do. Meanwhile, the Plain-Belly Sneetches get to watch the Star-Bellies having the time of their life and think, "Man, that looks pretty awesome. Wish I had a star upon my belly."
It's discrimination at its simplest. Check out the illustration dedicated to lines 17-22. On one side, the Star-Bellies sit by their fire. They bask in its light and triumphantly munch on frankfurters. On the other side, the Plain-Belly Sneetches look into the light, cold and dejected. It's good stuff—the illustration, not the discrimination.
Speaking of good stuff, bounce over to our section on "Meaning" for some more discussion on prejudice and its relation to the Sneetches.
When salesman McBean shows up, things get interesting. He promises to give the Plain-Belly Sneetches stars, making them equal to their snooty Sneetch brethren. It works… for exactly five minutes. Then McBean promises to remove the stars from the original Star-Belly Sneetches, making them "the best Sneetches on beaches" once again (Sneetches.56). Of course, they jump at the opportunity. The game plays itself out with the Sneetches running "[t]hrough the machines […] round and about again" until McBean has all their money safely in tow (Sneetches.79).
Sound familiar? That's because our society isn't all that different from that of the Sneetches.
Aren't the Star-Bellies kind of like yachts and wall-sized televisions? Sure, we humans buy those things because we like boats and watching certain TV programs in style, but the type of the object (yacht vs. sailboat vs. rowboat) automatically dumps us into a certain social group. In Dr. Seuss's opinion, capitalism is to blame: it promises that if you spend your money, you can have whatever you want and become part of any group you desire. In the words of McBean:
"You want stars like a Star-Belly Sneetch…? My friends, you can have them for three dollars each!" (Sneetches.36-37)
Dr. Seuss would say that you can spend the money and you'll get the object; but no matter how much you spend, there will always be something else to obtain. In the case of the Sneetches, once they get stars, it becomes fashionable to no longer have them. Their lives become an endless loop of "[c]hanging their stars every minute or two" (Sneetches.80). Sounds exhausting.
Whether they're Sneetchy stars or human cars, Seuss doesn't think we need this stuff. According to the Doc, it only leads to discrimination. Not because one thing is necessarily better than another—but because we imagine they are. And if that's so, he argues, then the solutions being sold to us by the likes of the world's McBeans will only hide the truth from us. And take our money.
When McBean finally leaves, the Sneetches decide it's best that they all just get along and forget about who has stars on their bellies and who doesn't. They decide "no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches" (Sneetches.96). Well, isn't that progressive?
Of course, half of the reason might be that they're flat broke. Seuss might be hinting that only once money is taken out of the equation can we truly see each other for who we are. Maybe it's not stars but dollar signs that the Sneetches are no longer seeing.
Whatever the reason, if the discrimination is over, we'll call this one a happy ending.