Doctor De Soto Critical Essays

William Steig


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

As fantasy, Doctor De Soto involves a plot that requires that the main characters not only act and respond in terms of their animal identities but also dress and act like humans and face dilemmas unique to the human situation. In this sense, the story is similar to a fable, although there are no didactic overtones. Young readers can relate to the De Sotos as successful problem solvers and can evaluate their actions in terms of moral criteria. Because the story examines the moral deliberations of both the mice and the fox, readers have the opportunity to evaluate the moral principles of each character and raise questions about their processes of decision making. Is the fox evil, as Dr. De Soto pronounces him, or is he simply following his basic instincts? The mice overcome their instinctual fear of the fox in order to treat his pain; should not the fox similarly overcome his desire to eat the mice out of gratitude for their compassion? It is interesting to note that in the De Sotos’ case, moral principles are followed not rigidly, but reflectively. Exceptions are considered, and the higher principle of compassion for a fellow being is followed. Their decisions are principle-led, rather than rule-based. They soon discover, however, that they must proceed with additional caution and use their wits in order to complete safely the procedure that they have begun.

The conflict presented in the story is relevant to young adult readers, who are in the process of finding out what kind of persons they are and what kind of persons they want to become. They are dealing with questions similar to those of the protagonists: How should one respond to a...

(The entire section is 680 words.)