The Lorax is one of the most beloved creations ever written by Dr. Seuss. The story is one of unchecked greed, environmental destruction, and hope. At the core of this tale is the Once-ler. He may be one of the good doctor’s most over-simplified characters. From the outside, he seems like a cut and dry villain. While he’s certainly no hero he’s more complex than any black and white analysis can capture. He’s a multi-faceted and flawed individual who suffered under many negative influences. Take a deeper look at the Once-ler. You may gain a new perspective on the character and the story in which he exists.
10 We Never Learn His Name
One of the most subtle details about this character is how carefully his identity is erased. The author wants to express that who the Once-ler really was no longer matters. All that remains is his awful legacy of greed and destruction. Every detail of who he once was is lost, including his name. The Once-ler has a descriptive title, not a name. Much like a baker bakes, the Once-ler onces. He's a storyteller that recounts the events of the past. It’s derived from the popular first line “once upon a time”. This lends another powerful message to the story: if you aren’t careful you could be lost to an awful legacy.
9 He’s Stuck In The Past
Living your life trapped in your house and obsessing over events that took place decades ago is no way to exist. That’s every day for the Once-ler. With no foreseeable future to look forward to he looks to the past. He replays the events that lead to the destruction of the forest over and over in his mind. He tortures himself with the details of a life wasted and selfishness run rampant. His only desire for contact with the outside world is to retell the horrible, painful past over and over. The Once-ler is no longer a citizen of the present.
8 He’s A Workaholic
The drive that made the thneed into a great success crossed the line into obsession. Its inventor was so driven that he never gave a second thought to the future of his brand or business. Had he been less consumed with constant production and profit would he have developed a more sustainable business model? After the thneed boom ended (at the Once-ler’s own hand) he was left with nothing. Losing his business meant he had to find a new obsession to channel his overactive drive into. So he began to knit during his every waking moment.
7 He Was Steamrolled
The once-ler and the Lorax were once something close to friends. After the Once-ler took heed of the Lorax’s warnings he tried to harvest the truffula fluffs in a slow and sustainable way. He found a balance between meeting the needs of production with the health of the forest. When the thneed business took off the Once-ler’s greedy relatives showed up and destroyed this balance. He’s no innocent victim by any means but the arrival of his family tipped him over the edge into greedy ignorance. It’s not fair to absolve him of all blame but his family should be held accountable too.
6 He Couldn’t Live With What He Had Done
It’s easy for us to think of the Once-ler as a heartless villain. He destroyed a once beautiful and thriving land for his own selfish reasons. The Once-ler didn’t even seem to be motivated by money. Never surrounded by luxury he simply consumed and consumed for the sake of unbridled growth.
It wasn’t until it was too late that he was able to see the consequences of his actions. The truth broke the Once-ler. When he was the destruction he caused his identity collapsed. He retreated to his home and never showed his face to the world again.
5 His Is A Story Of Wasted Brilliance
He may have used his gifts for evil but the Once-ler was truly a genius. He had a limitless imagination and bottomless creativity. There was no problem he couldn’t invent a solution for. The technology he invented changed the culture around him. He was an important innovator. The Lorax isn’t simply a cautionary tale of greed but also one of wasted talent. By the end of the story, no one knows who the Once-ler is or remembers any of his accomplishments. All of his brilliance is wasted and lost to his terrible legacy. In the end, his incredible mind is just one of the many resources his greed laid to waste.
4 He Was Used And Discarded
The Once-ler caved to the pressures put on him by his greedy family. They saw the money to be made by thneeds and lost all sense of perspective. Perhaps the greediest of all was his overbearing mother. As the world was slowly poisoned and truffula fluffs diminished profits ran dry. It’s hard to keep up with booming demands of your source material has been harvested dry. When the fluffs ran out, so did the money. When profits disappeared the Once-ler found himself abandoned by everyone. Even his mom. No one deserves to be abandoned, particularly over money.
3 He’s Consumed By Shame
For most of the story, the Once-ler is almost pathologically brazen. He’s out to take anything he wants no matter what he may destroy. He seems s in his consumption. He doesn’t even seem to plan for his future needs, he just mindlessly swallows everything in his path. Until it’s too late. After the forest is destroyed and the last truffula tree falls only then does the shame of his behavior truly come home to roost. The Once-ler becomes a shut-in. He shows hides his face from the world, too embarrassed to face what he’s done to the once beautiful forest.
2 He Has A Conscience
At the end of the story, the Once-ler makes a surprising choice. As he wraps up the story he reveals the last truffula tree seed and hands it over to his young audience. We see a side of him that’s been hidden for most of the book. He knows that what he has done is horrible and he actually feels bad. He wants to see the forest recover from the catastrophic damage he’s done to it. We spend the entire story seeing him as the bad guy, a heartless and selfish character. Can her truly redeem himself with this one good act?
1 He’s Terrified Of Failure
As we reach the end of the story the Once-ler reveals the secret ace he’s had up his sleeve all along, the last truffula seed. This is the most puzzling part of the story. He’s been sitting in his house, hiding from the world. Consumed with grief and guilt he’s pined for years to see trees and animals again. All along he had the answer to his own dilemma in his very hands. Why didn’t he simply plant the seed himself? Because he’s terrified that everything he touches turns into death and destruction. He simply doesn't trust himself to get it right.
NEXT: 'The Lorax' Review