Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories
How It All Goes Down
We've got a secret to tell you about the illustrator of this story. It wasn't Dr. Seuss. It was a very mysterious man named Teddy Geisel who… oh Pooh! Teddy Geisel is Dr. Seuss, and you already knew that.
Like most Seuss stories, these ones are fairly basic line drawings with big swaths of primary colors used to create a setting or illustrate a point. They also just so happen to be whimsical, hilarious, and intensely human, even though all of the characters are animals. Really, as wonderful as Dr. Seuss' rhymes are, there wouldn't be any story if it weren't for the illustrations. And by that we mean the illustrations take up the full page, so there'd be nothing to print the stories on if they weren't there.
But what exactly do the illustrations do for this story? Let's break it on down now, Shmoop style.
(1) Illustrations Reinforce What's in the Text… and Crack Us Up
Seuss's illustrations give us a much better sense of the world we're supposed to be envisioning than words ever will. Sorry, words. Seuss, after all, has a very distinct vision of things, and we're pretty glad he's showing that directly to us. Need an example? Just look at Yertle hunched on his rock next to stanza 2. One look at that guy's scowling mug, and we know just what kind of king he is.
But some of the absolute best illustrations are the ones that tell us something about a character's emotions. Take a look at Yertle next to stanza 5, glaring down at Mack as he dares to question his authority. We can tell he's not going to have the happiest of reactions, but we can't quite imagine what's in store for us on the very next page.
And then? Stanza 6 and… amazingness. Just look at Yertle's face. Just look at that cloud of anger exploding all around him. Not only do we know pretty viscerally just how much of a jerk Yertle is, we can see how absurdly hilarious this guy is, too.
(2) Illustrations Make the Switch Between Normalcy and Zaniness
Notice something? Only four colors are used throughout all three stories: blue, black, green, and white (is white a color?). On the whole, each story features a different color more heavily than the rest. In "Yertle the Turtle," it's blue and green. In "Gertrude McFuzz," it's white and black, and in "The Big Brag," it's black, white, and blue.
BUT (and that's a big but), the colors that aren't featured do make an appearance, and often at very important moments. Specifically, when we go from everyday humdrum events to WOW moments. For Gertrude McFuzz, that's when she leaves her boring tail behind for a wacky tail made of all sorts of colors. In "The Big Brag," green pops up when the worm sidles onto the scene to school his competitors.
In "Yertle the Turtle"…well, it doesn't really happen in "Yertle the Turtle," because the normal and the clinically insane are pretty much the same.
(3) Illustrations Highlight Things We Wouldn't Have Seen
In all of his stories, Seuss plays a lot with proportions. When a character is having an emotional moment—good or bad—or they're proving their worth, they get suddenly a lot bigger than they were before, especially in comparison to the other characters or objects. Think about the worm in "The Big Brag." At first, he's just the size of a worm. But when he's showing the rabbit and the bear what's what in stanza 19, half of his body is as long as the bear's entire head and neck.
Or look at Yertle piled high on the top of that stack in stanza 9. Sure, he's always been one of the bigger turtles, but now, as he's hooraying and riding high on his victory, he utterly dwarfs the other turtles. That's just what happens when you get yourself a big emotion.
(4) Illustrations Teach Through What's Not There
While you were reading through this collection, did you notice all of the white space in the illustrations? Sure, that appears in most Seussian stories, but we think it's got some bigger meaning here. Just take a look at what each of these vain, selfish main characters are doing. What do they have in common? If you said, "Being the very manifestation of an ego," DING DING DING! You're right on.
Now, maybe this is getting too fancy for everybody, but we here at Shmoop have a hunch that, intended or not, these illustrations are a depiction of an ego-centric world. This is what it looks like when the world revolves entirely around your ego. Sure, occasionally Yertle will spot something else he wants to rule, and the fellas from "The Big Brag" will circumnavigate the world far and wide, but they still never see anything unless they're looking at it directly.
Because if they don't see it, it doesn't exist. Thus: white space.
Too far? Alright, we'll stop here.
Wait, did we seriously just use the word "thus"?