Reading Time: 6 minutes

Hi. I’m Casey. I’m a hetero cis white guy. As such, I feel compelled to broadcast my every opinion. 

But I’m learning! At the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, I took a cue to start listening, reading, and generally paying attention to the voices of people who don’t look or sound like me. The inevitable result is that I’m re-examining the media through less colonized eyes, and, you know, broadcasting my opinions about that.

These re-examinations may or may not have anything to do with the author’s intent when writing the story but are more about how an individual different from myself may interpret the tale. It’s a dynamic journey as the more I learn, the more I see.

I realize that writing articles such as this can come off as self-congratulatory. I know. This is not my intent. After consulting with the activists in my life, I was advised that sharing my progress encourages others in my demographic to follow suit. 

So, with my literary wanking fully justified, away we go.

I recently rewatched the animated classic How The Grinch Stole Christmas, as one does in June.

Quick recap: The Grinch hates Christmas. So he dresses up like Santa and, despite Dora the Explorer’s repeated warnings, swipes everyone’s holiday gifts and swag. When the sun rises over a drowsy Whoville, the Grinch is surprised that his enemies are not crushed, they are not being driven before him, and that there are no lamentations of their women or otherwise. Instead, he is greeted with holiday songs. The Grinch learns that gifts and decorations are not necessary to enjoy Christmas, but that time with one’s loved ones is the true spirit of the season.

Or so the Whos would have us believe.

Before I begin my retake, a few observations.

  • The Grinch is Green; the rest of Whoville is Steven Seagal colored.
  • The Grinch lives in a cave, far away from the Whos.
  • The Grinch is said to have shoes that are too tight, a heart that is too small, and a head that “wasn’t screwed on right.”
  • The Grinch is the only one depicted with janky teeth.
  • The Grinch hates noise.
  • The Grinch doesn’t have a name.
  • The Grinch’s only companion is a dog named Max.
  • The Grinch has red-colored eyes. The only Who that we get to know (Cindy Lou) has blue eyes.

As I rewatch this classic, I begin to form a hypothesis. The Grinch is the last remaining member of a nearly-extinct people. This explains his physical differences from all of the other characters in the story. It also explains his resentment for the colonizers that are either the individuals who have killed off all of his family, or are their direct descendants. He is forced to listen to them sing songs of celebration while they inhabit his ancestral Homeland.

The story does not specify whether the Grinch’s exile is self-selected, but I am inclined to believe that he was forcibly relocated there. How could it be otherwise? Consider his lack of access to resources. He either can not afford or does not have access to properly fitting footwear (his shoes are too tight). He lacks access to health care (his heart is too small). Finally, he lacks access to mental health care, a condition insensitively characterized as his head not being “screwed on just right.”

After suffering generational trauma, seclusion, and the genocide of his people, it’s safe to say that he might benefit from some Zoloft or a culturally-appropriate therapist (if one exists).

I know that the funky grill is kind of a Westernized beauty standard, but since it’s a movie based in the West, it seems an intentional effort at otherism and therefore bears mentioning. Either he can’t afford dental care, or does not have access to it. On the other hand, if he does have access and can afford it but is choosing not to, his lack of personal hygiene and orthodontia may be further evidence of low self-esteem or mental health struggles. 

The Grinch goes into great detail about how much he hates the noise made by the Whos, a possible indication of PTSD or neuro-atypicality. Then again, he needs a telescope to see the city of Whoville, yet it’s still loud enough to set his molars to grind mode. Who wouldn’t be irritated by that kind of racket?

Perhaps it isn’t the earsplitting volume, but what they are singing. The lyrics are admittedly gibberish to this monolinguist. Could they be singing in the Grinch’s native language, a mocking song celebrating the manifest destiny bestowed upon the white and delightsome Whos and their victory over their devilish and grassy natives?

Now you’re getting it.

To further dehumanize (de-Who-manize?) the titular character, he is not given a name. He. Has. No. Name. He is simply referred to as “The Grinch” throughout the story. Have you ever referred to any of your co-workers as “The Mexican”? Ever talk about someone in your friend group and mention “The Jew”? 

If you do, please stop it. Unless of course you have that kind of close relationship where the two of you transcend social norms as a way to demonstrate your closeness, in which case carry on, I suppose. But maybe double-check with them on this habit—they might not be as cool with it as you think. 

In any case, The Grinch clearly doesn’t endorse that kind of close relationship with the Whos, so maybe they could learn his name. The narrator never bothered.

Which brings us to Max. Why am I calling him Max and not “The Dog”? Because they gave the dog a name. That’s right, reader—they provided the canine with more dignity than the guy the story is named after. Max is The Grinch’s ride-or-die and more than willing to go along with the grand larceny scheme. It should be noted that Max is forced to dress up like a reindeer because, according to the narrator, “Reindeer are scarce.”

And why is that?

Was this always the case? Are their numbers dwindling due to poor game management and overhunting by the Whos? There isn’t enough evidence in the story to tell us one way or the other. The Grinch clearly has some fondness for antlered animals, though as he has hardly any home decor save the horns. Is this why “Roast Beast is a feast I can’t stand in the least”? Was this animal sacred to his peoples? 

So with his many environmentally-safe-yet-never-utilized reusable grocery bags thrown into his jalopy, along with his disguise and Max, he goes about pilfering the town of Whoville. In the middle of his shenanigans, he runs into the aforementioned Cindy Lou Who. If this doesn’t play out like the perfect, “Hey white folks, keep your daughters away from any dude with swarthy skin, else they’ll take her innocence and steal your holiday…”

Wait. They don’t even bother to make it a metaphor. That is exactly what happens in the story.

After putting her to bed, he continues to loot the town, then returns to his literal hole in a wall to enjoy the fruits of his labor. His intent was to break their spirit the way that they broke his. To make them feel the way that he made them feel. But there was a fatal flaw in his plan: he didn’t understand the culture that had demolished his. 

Who could blame him? It’s not his culture. He’d been forced to bear witness to his oppressors through a telescope. Based on all of his gathered data, this would, this SHOULD have broken their spirit. When he hears the songs he knows that despite his best efforts, his people are lost. Forever. And those who took them will NEVER be brought to justice.

His mind is broken. The only choice he feels he has left is to assimilate. To become what shattered him and his people. The benefits of assimilation in this story are demonstrated immediately as his chronic heart condition is magically corrected. With Max at his side, The Grinch rides in and returns the stolen items. The Whos, who likely spent thousands of dollars on the celebration, didn’t seem to even notice that they had gone missing. (Income inequality much?)

He begs his oppressors for forgiveness the only way he knows how—by demonstrating his love for the Whos and his disdain for himself. After all is said and done, he is granted the honor of carving the roast beast, the animal sacred to the Grinches. The exact feast he couldn’t stand in the least. 

Like Winston at the end of 1984, he now loves Big Brother. Every last atom of his Grinchness has been hammered away, and his internalized Whoness manifests as a physical change. This physical change is recognizable as belonging to the colonizer: he has blue eyes.

My guess is that part of this feast included a naming ceremony, an opportunity to fully join as a citizen of Whoville and leave behind “The Grinch”, his shabby home, and his native culture. 

So who is he now? Who indeed.

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Robert Casey Kendall

I live in my hometown of Hood River Oregon with my awesome wife, five chickens, two cats, dog, and four of my five kids. The fifth is in Chicago wrapping up grad school. Two of my kids are on the autism...