The search for personal identity is said to be a lifetime endeavor. At a certain point of their lives, most people eventually recognize who they truly are. Others live all their lives in confusion or fear of confronting their real selves because these might be something they would not like. Some people search long and hard to discover their essential Self. Others grow up truthful to themselves so that they develop an identity early in their lives and thus are able to develop more fully throughout their lifetime. Some people, meanwhile—the confused and afraid—construct an image that they use to deceive others and even themselves.
Identity, therefore, is an issue that normal individuals grapple with. It is not only a grown-up issue, too. Even children have to deal with understanding who and what they are. They face the issue of a more simplistic but no less relevant nature than adults do on the subject. Dr. Seuss’s children’s poetry “Too Many Daves” can be interpreted as a piece that deals with the subject of personal identity and individuality, discussing it on a level that a young child could understand and find enjoyable and interesting at the same time.
The persona in the narrative verse is a disinterested third-person speaker who simply would like to tell a story that he thinks others would be interested to know. The characters in his story is Mrs. McCave and her twenty-three sons, all named Dave. Maybe Mrs. McCave thought that it would be easier to simply choose one name for all her sons rather than think of a unique one each time she bears another son. She had twenty-three of them, after all. The disadvantage of this, she finds out later on, is that when she calls one son, all twenty-three Daves would come to answer her call.
Ironically, she only realizes this when all of them are grown-ups already and it has become too late to rename them. Furthermore, now that they are all grown-ups, she is now able to think of unique and creative names by which she could call each one. The most obvious and catching attribute of the poem, even before its funny story, is its lilting cadence. All lines uniformly begin with an iamb followed by three anapests. This particular pattern may have been used by Dr. Seuss not so much in consonance with the meaning of the poem but because of its musical effect.
When a storyteller or anyone reading-aloud this particular story begins with the first line “Did I ever tell you? ” (1), the upward inflection on the second and fourth words, he would certainly pique the interest of any child-listener. The succeeding lines proceed with a gallop-like speed and sound so that the even if the listener cannot follow the story behind the lines or is simply too young to understand, he would enjoy the rhythm of the reading—as long as the reader places the proper emphases in the proper places, of course.
Most Dr. Seuss books are notable for their nonsensical words that appeal not so much for the content or subject matter of the verse but for the effect of the words on speech when the verses are read or on the ear when they are listened to. “Too Many Daves” is no exception to this Dr. Seuss trademark. The regular rhythm of the verses and the inclusion of words which are purely Dr. Seuss’s inventions and, therefore, not meant to be understood, gives the piece a tone of playfulness prompts the reader to treat the story lightheartedly.
The charm of Dr. Seuss’s stories is how they allow the reader to explore beyond the common and everyday things, whether he was conscious about this or not while he was writing them. “Too Many Daves” has a story which sounds too incredible to be true, but for its young listeners or readers, children whose ability to accept the fantastic and impossible are not yet hindered by the imagination-constricting ability to rationalize which adults are unfortunate to have developed along with growing-up.
Aside from the rhythm, the element of heavy musicality is also affected by the profusion of rhyme, alliteration and assonance within the twenty-four lines. The reason that the mother-character is named Mrs. McCave is so that it would rhyme with the son’s name, Dave. The entire poem is composed of couplet rhymes with a different rhyme for every couplet. Alliteration is evident in lines like “twenty-three” (2), “she wishes that when they were born”(9) and in some of the names the mother enumerates for her sons like “Stuffy” and “Stinky” (14), “Ziggy” and “Soggy Muff” (17), “Buffalo Bill” and Biffalo Buff” (18) and “Weepy Weed” (19).
Assonance, meanwhile, is present in almost all lines starting with the “a” sound in “that wasn’t a smart thing” (3) to “Yoo-Hoo” (4), “come on the run” (6), and the names “Hoos-Foos” (11), “Hot-Shot” (12), “Marvin O’Gravel Balloon Face” (16), “Soggy Muff” (17), “Sneepy” and “Weepy Weed” (19), “Oliver Boliver Butt” (23) and “Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate” (23).
The enumeration of possible names that the mother wishes she has named for her sons is the most interesting aspect of the poem because of the creativity that must have gone in the writer’s mind in thinking of aurally appealing as well as thought-provoking names for the McCave boys—although Dr. Seuss might have intentionally meant to make them nonsensical and meaningless when he wrote them.
The reader of “Too Many Daves” can assume, however, that the mother must have been inspired to think of these names in particular because they represent the personalities of her children, which she only sees and observes as each child grows up. Every reader can employ his own creativity as he imagines the metaphorical or literal meanings behind every name. Perhaps Bodkin Van Horn is the son who dresses sharply. Hoos-foos sounds like someone who does not take things in life seriously. Simms is the average guy who is liked by everyone.
Hot-Shot is an athletic jock. Sunny Jim is the optimistic one. Shadrack is a homebody. Blinkey has something wrong with his eyes. Stuffy is always serious and uptight. Stinkey does not like to take regular baths. Putt-putt is cute but childish. Moon Face is overweight and loves to eat. Marvin O’Gravel Balloon Face is like his brother, Moon Face, but more lazy. Ziggy is nice and ordinary. Soggy Muff is untidy. Buffalo Bill always figures in a fight. Biffalo Buff is always safe and stays away from troubles. Sneepy is sickly and weak. Weepy Weed is a crybaby.
Paris Garters dresses well. Harris Tweed, too. Sir Michael Carmichael Zutt thinks too highly of himself. Oliver Boliver Butt is a simpleton while Zanzibar Buck-Muck McFate hates the small town life and dreams of being an explorer or an astronaut someday. The final line of the poem summarizes the message that the speaker would like to emphasize regarding the weird situation of the McCave boys’ being singularly named: “But she didn’t do it. And now it’s too late. (24). One’s name is the first step by which the individual defines his identity.
Personality would eventually emerge whatever one’s name is, but it would have helped the McCave brothers if they were given unique names by their mother, and hence unique identities in her regard of each son. By depriving them of individual names, it appears like she had liked her sons to be the same in every aspect. It could also be interpreted to mean that she does not care much about his sons as individuals with their respective identities and personalities. She just realizes too late that even if they are all her sons she could not control the nature of humans to grow differently from each other.
On the other hand, however, one could argue that the mother did not name her children with various names because she does not want them to be burdened by the expectations that some names may have on their owners. For instance, if a person were named Lovely at birth, it would be unfortunate if she grows up be unattractive. Mrs. McCave would like his sons to develop their own identities and personalities and later on, decide to get a name appropriate to them. Work Cited Dr. Seuss. Too Many Daves.
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