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Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories


by Dr. Seuss

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories Setting

Where It All Goes Down

"Yertle the Turtle": Island of Sala-ma-Sond and the Skies Above

It might seem that the setting of "Yertle the Turtle" is pretty obvious. It's the Island of Sala-ma-Sond, right? Yes, but it's also so much more.

See, Sala-ma-Sond is what we in big fancy literature circles call a microcosm. Now before you get all, "Micro-what?" on us, let's break it down, Latin style. "Cosm" means universe or world. Think of words like "cosmos" or "cosmopolitan" and you'll see why. "Micro," as you've probably guessed, means small. So microcosm means it's a small world after all. Bottom line: this world may seem small (it's just a pond, right?), but it really represents our much bigger world.

In its original state, where all turtles are allowed to come and go as they please, Sala-ma-Sond is an ideal setting. Maybe not paradise, but good enough to keep the water warm, the food plentiful, and the turtles happy and equipped with everything they need.

The further we get away from Sala-ma-Sond, the worse the setting becomes. We can see just how small and unsatisfactory Sala-ma-Sond is to the voracious mind. Its waters become choppy and unwelcoming. Life feels shaky unstable in this thin air. And the ultimate irony of it all: the higher Yertle climbs, the less there is around him. He's working toward white space; a void; nothing at all.

So it's a good thing ol' Mack burps and brings Yertle back to the setting of the pond, where he has to learn to live again in the muddy mud mud. What a nice arc for this here setting:

Beginning: Down to earth, real, satisfactory, if not fancy
Middle: High heights, great sights, THE VOID
End: Back down in the muck

"Gertrude McFuzz": The Plain, Spare Bird World

The you're-so-vain-you-probably-think-this-song-is-about-you adventures of Gertrude McFuzz take place in some bird kingdom, specifically on a hill, a branch, another hill where there are pill-berries, and then in the air. The setting isn't really a huge deal in this story, except when we think about it right along with what's going on with Gertrude.

The first two places where we see Gertrude are close to home—first on her little hill and then in her uncle's nest. These are safe spots, but nothing remarkable. And Gertrude wants remarkable.

She gets just that when she reaches the pill-berry hill and starts munching away. As she transforms into her ideal, the setting fills with all sorts of fantastic explosions and sparkles. It also shrinks when we see Gertrude's tail flower forth in all of its blue-green glory. For a moment, it seems like the setting really doesn't matter at all, just as long as Gertrude is there to fill it.

But we get a crude wake up call when she can't lift off the ground. Gertrude isn't above her plain, spare setting at all. In fact, she's pretty much tied to it, just like she's tied to her tail. In the end, that's the lesson she's got to learn: as long as she has her single tree and little waggily tail, she'll be just fine. The setting helps her realize that, even if it's not a major player.

"The Big Brag": THE WHOLE WORLD… and an Itsy Bitsy Wormhole

When we start "The Big Brag," we're perched right next to the rabbit on the hill, twiddling our thumbs into the sun. Much like Gertrude and Yertle's worlds, it's calm and idyllic just because it's small.

Blech. Small. Did you hear that?

Small is certainly not going to be enough for the rabbit, let alone the bear. That's why you'll see something strange happen to the setting as the animals brag and brag: the setting gets bigger, too, right along with their exaggerations. With the rabbit, we zoom out so we're set in a whole big mountain range. With the bear, we zoom out even further so we can see beyond that mountain range. With the worm, we zoom out even further so that we're seeing the entire world.

And what happens, right when we're seeing the world so large, and we're standing there with our mouths all open feeling insignificant in the face of both these intimidating feats and this globally proportioned setting?

We zoom right back in to the tiny worm and his little wormhole—the place where life should really be lived.

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