Few writers of the twentieth century have made nearly the same impact on the literary society than Sheldon Allan Silverstein. His writing encompasses a broad range of styles, from adult to children's, comical to unusual. One of his most common styles was that of fantasy: actions and events that cannot logically happen. This style was evident in his works, the Loser, Thumb Face, Warning, Squishy Touch, and Skin Stealer. Through the description of these absurd circumstances, Silverstein was able to entertain readers of all ages.
In Sely Friday's reference to a biography, Shel Silverstein was quoted as saying, " . . . I would much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls. But I couldn't play ball, I couldn't dance. Luckily, the girls didn't want me; not much I could do about that. So, I started to draw and to write." Because of his rejection by some of his peers, he found his own hobby: entertaining others. During the 1950's, Silverstein even served as a member of the United States Armed Forces. While in this position, he was employed as a cartoonist to help cheer up the troops during the Korean War. In 1956, the writer worked again as a cartoonist, but this time for a little-known magazine called Playboy. Despite this wide range of literary audiences, Silverstein's main purpose was to entertain.
Two of his major collections of works of literature are the critically acclaimed Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. They have no real historic significance; they were written to entertain. These two books contain some of Silverstein's most accredited work. Since the books are children's literature, not many critics have taken the time to review the works. However, Shel Silverstein Book Reviews reference to a review of Silverstein's A Light in the Attic said, "Despite such moments of banality, and there aren't many, Mr. Silverstein's work remains a must for lovers of good verse for children. Quite like nobody else, he is still a master of delectable outrage and the proprietor' of a surprisingly finely tuned sensibility." In other words, there were some ordinary poems in this book, but for the most part, Silverstein reaffirmed his status as an excellent writer for children with the use of both absurdity and deep feeling.
Silverstein's the Loser, presented in Where the Sidewalk Ends, tells the story of a person who lost his/her head while playing with his/her cousin. The problem occurs in the story when the person cannot find the head because almost all sensory perception went along with the head. In the end, the person says, " . . . I guess I'll sit down / On this rock / And rest for just a minute . . . ." (p. 25). The rock, as the picture accompanying the poem shows, turns out to be the person's lost head. This story is obviously impossible considering the biological fact that when a person is decapitated, his/her life ceases. However, with the use of simple end rhyme and an amusing story, Silverstein is able to present a light-hearted view of what could have been a tragedy.
Thumb Face, included in A Light in the Attic, is another example of Silverstein's use of fantasy. The first line of the poem basically says it all: "There is a face upon my thumb . . .." (p. 55). For all practical purposes, this is an absurd situation. The speaker goes on to describe the features of the small face on his/her thumb. Certain descriptions of the face imply a sense of minuteness and leave the reader feeling compassionate for it because of its size. For example, Silverstein wrote, "It has a little twisty mouth, / And yellow teethies, too." Again, Silverstein uses end rhyme in the pattern of "a b c b," which helps move the story along in a definite rhythm. While the subject matter is irrational, Silverstein uses vivid descriptions and a straightforward picture to entertain his readers....
Cited: Friday, Sely. "Biography." Shel Silverstein Collected Information. 1999. http://220.127.116.11/Silverstein/bio.html (25 Oct. 1999).
(Author unknown). "Shel Silverstein Book Reviews." Shel Silverstein 's Adult Works. 1999. http://www.banned-width.com/shel/misc/breviews.html (25 Oct. 1999).
Silverstein, Shel (1974). Where the Sidewalk Ends. New York: Harper and Row.
Silverstein, Shel (1981). A Light in the Attic. New York: Harper and Row.
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