Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories
by Dr. Seuss
What’s Up With the Ending?
"Yertle the Turtle"
We here at Shmoop aren't ones to take sides, but we've got to say, there's something that happens in the stanza right before the ending that's pretty awesome. At least for anyone who doesn't like turtle dictators.
Remember Wile E. Coyote? Well, he and Yertle have something in common: a spectacular (and strictly linear) fall from grace.
Right after Yertle's fall, we get these glorious words:
And today the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.
And the turtles, of course… all the turtles are free.
As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be. (Yertle.99-102)
Those first two lines just confirm what we saw on the last page. Yep, Yertle, Mr. Marvelous, retains neither his power nor his position nor his right to see more than any turtle beneath him. Because there is no turtle beneath him. He exercises dominion only over a patch of mud. How impressive.
And what's happened to the other turtles since the yoke of Yertle has lifted? Why, just look at those happy faces. They're free to be, well, free. It's a fine and important point, one Seuss sought to lead his readers to gentle with a "maybe" that lets us come to our own conclusion far more than any other word he could have chosen.
As we mention in our "Detailed Summary," Seuss was asked pretty regularly when he was on tour why he went for "maybe" as opposed to "surely," to which he most often responded, "I wanted other people to say surely in their minds instead of my having to say it" (source).
And isn't that the point? No one should tell us what to think or do, including the author who tells us not to let other people tell us what to think or do.
Thanks, Dr. Seuss.
In "Gertrude McFuzz," we get what's called a circular ending. Just flip rapidly between the first illustration and the very last, and you'll see what we mean. In the first, you've got Gertrude and her pathetic drooping tail standing next to a tree and staring jealously at Lolla over her shoulder. In the last, she's back to the same tail, but now it's wagging energetically. She's facing forward, as if to take the world full on, glancing back confidently at her tail. And the tree? It seems to have had a haircut of its own in solidarity.
The text echoes everything we see in the illustrations:
And finally, when all of the pulling was done,
Gertrude, behind her, again had just one…
That one little feather she had as a starter.
But now that's enough, because she is smarter. (McFuzz.73-76)
See that? She's ending with her starter. She's accepting what she began with. Which, really, is what all smart birds do.
"The Big Brag"
By the end of The Big Brag, we've circled the world with only a little old worm to pull us along. The ending here is actually split over two stanzas:
"And the fools that I saw were none other than you,
Who seem to have nothing else better to do
Than sit here and argue who's better than who!"
Then the little old worm gave his head a small jerk
And he dived in his whole and went back to his work. (Brag.109-13)
What's the point Seuss is trying to make here? Bragging is all about one-upmanship. But the problem with triumphing over someone else (particularly when using a very shallow talent) is that they're ready and waiting to one-up the one-upper. It's a cycle with no end—one that will distract from anything productive like work or living a meaningful life.
That's why, once the little old worm one-ups the one-uppers, he disappears from view, confident and satisfied with his accomplishment and eager to get back to things that have meaning. We don't get any reaction from the rabbit and the bear because they don't know how to do what the worm just did—to accept and be happy with what is. They can only stand there stunned by a creature that operates in a mode entirely outside of their mentality. Fools.