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The Lorax

by Dr. Seuss

Summary

This Dr. Seuss story addresses one’s impact on the environment, complexities surrounding success and ambition, and taking responsibility.

The Lorax is a cautionary tale primarily about a person’s responsibilities to the environment. Dr. Seuss introduces the Once-ler, a reckless Thneed entrepreneur whose unfettered ambition leads to the destruction of the immediate environment. The Lorax represents the interests of all the creatures whose lives are affected negatively by the environmental degradation. He tries to convince the Once-ler to stop, but to no avail. The environment is completely decimated before the Once-ler realizes the harm he caused. The story is also a hopeful account ending with the possibility of environmental restoration when the Once-ler accepts responsibility.

Read aloud video by Danny DeVito

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

The Lorax raises ethical issues regarding the environmental impacts of our actions, the moral implications of success, possible dangers of ambition, and the proper way a culpable person reacts and attempts to make amends.

The first set of questions challenges children to consider specifically who the Once-ler wronged and how: the Truffula Trees, the Lorax, the Brown Bar-ba-loots, the Swomee-Swans, the Humming Fish, himself? These are important considerations as the Once-ler’s actions bring about different outcomes for different species. Children can think about why they should care about the environment and the importance of considering and evaluating the impacts of their own actions on it. What is the moral difference between cutting down one Truffula Tree and cutting down all of them?

The next set of questions allow students to explore the complexities of success and ambition, the fine line between unfettered ambition and a more responsible quest for success. Children are encouraged to imagine what drives the Once-ler to bigger, bigger, bigger his Thneed business and the impacts of doing so on others and himself. They are also encouraged to imagine what a responsible Once-ler might’ve done instead.

The final set of questions focuses on the Once-ler’s culpability. He has done wrong, but now what? Children can be asked about unintentional wrongdoing, recognition of culpability, and what to do about it. In the process they are able to reflect on the concepts of guilt and restitution.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Environmental impacts

When the Lorax first appears to speak on behalf of the trees, the Once-ler claims he is doing no harm by cutting down Truffula Trees to make Thneeds.

  1. Was it harmful when the Once-ler cut down the first tree? If so, who, or what did it harm? If not, why not?
  2. The Lorax thinks that it was wrong for the Once-ler to cut down the tree to make a Thneed because he thinks the Thneed is useless. Imagine he’s right. Is it wrong to cut down the tree if the Thneed is useless?
  3. Imagine he’s wrong: the Thneed is useful. Is it wrong to cut down the tree if the Thneed is useful?
  4. Now that the Once-ler is cutting down lots of trees, is this wrong?
  5. Imagine that cutting down one tree is okay. Would it be wrong to cut all of them down? Why or why not?
  6. The Brown Bar-ba-loots, the Swomee-Swans, and the Humming Fish had to leave. How did the Once-ler’s Thneed factory affect the animals?
  7. Is how the Brown Bar-ba-loots are affected a good reason not to cut down the Truffula Trees? Why or why not?
  8. Is how the Swomee-Swans and the Humming Fish are affected by the factory’s pollution a good reason to not have a Thneed factory? Why or why not?
  9. Is it a good reason for factories to be careful about pollution?
  10. Imagine if the Once-ler didn’t harm any animal by cutting down the Truffula Trees. Would it be okay for him to cut down the trees? Why or why not?

Success and Ambition

The Once-ler’s Thneed business is very successful. He sells lots of Thneeds and he keeps growing his business, bigger and bigger.

  1. Is the Once-ler’s success a good thing? Why or why not?
  2. Can pursuing success be a good thing? If so, when?
  3. Can pursuing success ever be wrong? If so, when?
  4. Is bigger better? Why or why not?
  5. What might make it good? What might make it bad?
  6. Why do you think the Once-ler wants to keep expanding more and more?
  7. Does the Once-ler go too far? How?
  8. What is greed? Is the Once-ler greedy? Why or Why not?
  9. Can you think of another way the Once-ler could have run his business that could’ve avoided the negative effects on the environment: the trees, the plants? How?

Culpability

The Once-ler goes through all the Truffula Trees. And he can’t make any more Thneeds or more money. He looks around and the world is grey.

  1. Who or what did the Once-ler wrong?
  2. Do you think that the Once-ler harmed himself? If so, how?
  3. Does it matter if the Once-ler didn’t mean to harm anyone?
  4. Should the Once-ler feel guilty?
  5. How does the Once-ler try to make amends for the wrong he has done?
  6. How do you make amends for the wrong you’ve done? For example, if you hurt someone’s feelings, how do you make up for it?
  7. Did the Once-ler do enough to make up for the wrong he caused?
  8. The Lorax repeatedly confronts the Once-ler about the impacts of the Once-ler’s actions. Who is the Lorax? Who or what does he represent?
  9. How does the Lorax help the Once-ler?
  10. Do you have someone who helps you in a similar way? Can you think of an example?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Jayme Johnson archived here. Revised August 2020 by Jessica Mejía and Emily Knuth.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for Dr. Seuss' book The Lorax featuring a furry orange creature suddenly appearing atop a tree stump. He is short and has a large yellow mustache. There are three trees with vibrant, woolly foliage. Download & Print Email Book Module

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As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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