Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories
by Dr. Seuss
Despite not being a turtle and not being on the top of any stacks, Gertrude McFuzz actually has a lot in common both with Yertle from "Yertle the Turtle" and the Rabbit and Bear from "The Big Brag." Let's take a look.
Vanity Is Dissatisfaction's Best Friend
Gertrude, like certain reptilian characters we know, defines her sense of self-worth not by anything internal, like her sense of humor or her smarts, but by the quality of her single feather (source, 40), which she sees as being, "The smallest plain tail ever was. / One droopy-drop feather" (2-3).
This is what we like to call vain. It's dangerous, too, as we see from the second stanza when Gertrude compares herself to the fancy bird, Lolla-Lee-Lou, who has two showy feathers rather than a single droopy one.
Uh oh. That reminds us of a terrible idea that Yertle once had: that the goal of life is to outdo or get more than others. This definitely isn't going to end well.
The Ups and Downs of Ambition
Sure enough, Gertrude's vanity is covering up a much deeper wound. It doesn't help when her Dr. Uncle Dake tells her that her "tail is just right for your kind of a bird" (19). It doesn't even help when Gertrude gets one beautiful tail from eating just one berry.
Her appetite for being better than that Lolla-Lee-Lou is so strong, she's got to eat the whole bush of berries and pop out a ridiculous number of tails until she's sure her nemesis will "fall right down dead!" (64). Because, as far as Gertrude can see, the problem isn't inside of her, it's outside of her, and she's got to fix it with outside stuff, too (pill-berries).
Of course, it's Gertrude's beautiful tail that brings her down in the end. In fact, in preventing her from flying, it pretty much destroys her ability to be a bird. Most birds, after all, can, fly.
The lesson? First, we're probably designed to be the way we are for a very good reason, thank you very much. Plus, there's no point in trying to change all of that, just as long as you're happy being who you are. And that's just what Gertrude is now, having learned her lesson and become a little bit smarter.
Dr. Seuss, a Sexist?
We love Dr. Seuss, we really do, but we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't tell you about some of the criticism he's received for this story. In feminist circles, there's been a little bit of throat clearing and ahem-ing about the fact that there aren't very many female characters that appear in Seuss stories in the first place… so why, when one does appear, does he choose to make her shallow and vain?
In true style, Dr. Seuss responded to this criticism by noting that most of his characters were animals, adding, "If she [the critic] can identify their sex, I will remember her in my will" (source).
As for us here at Shmoop, we're not really sure what to believe. After all, pretty much every character in this collection is shallow and vain. But, Gertrude is shallow and vain in a way that's pretty stereotypically female, seeing as how she's obsessed with her looks—rather than ruling or showing all of the other animals how much more talented she is. We'll leave the final call up to you.