Captain Underpants: Themes
Good vs. Evil
Good vs. Evil is a theme explored over and over throughout the Captain Underpants series. Containing the elements of any classic superhero tale, the “good guy”, Captain Underpants, battles a series of evil villains throughout the series. Like many of its superhero counterparts, the good always prevails, with Captain Underpants and the main Protagonists George and Harold coming out on top.
Throughout the series, a theme of revenge is explored on several occasions. In fact, it is usually the element that gets George and Harold into so much trouble. As acts of revenge, the boys often plan pranks to play on their fellow students or teachers. Likewise, when they are punished, they plot acts of revenge such as writing comic books that make fun of their antagonists or even more pranks to seek revenge. On the other side, many of the characters that turn evil are pushed to the edge and eventually set out to seek revenge.
The anti-authority themes found throughout the series are among the most controversial among parents, teachers and other authority figures. Characters in the books who are authority figures are often presented terrorizing the protagonists and causing general misery. There is no mistaking that the authority figures in the series are the antagonists. For George and Harold, the teachers and principals at their school are their biggest adversary, and are treated with disrespect.
Definition of Right vs. Wrong
Alternate definitions of right and wrong are explored throughout the series. George and Harold are a duo of fourth grade boys who thrive on causing mischief and playing pranks on fellow students and teachers. However, as soon as they are introduced to us we are told that they are good. In fact, it often appears that they are rightfully causing mischief because of the restraints place on their spunk and creativity throughout the school. The acts the authority figures consider wrong are portrayed as right, and the punishment the boys receive comes across as wrongful. The reader is compelled to root for George and Harold throughout the novels.
Children Are Smarter Than Adults
Throughout the Captain Underpants series, adults are consistently outsmarted by children. Harold and George are continuously finding ways to trick Principal Krupp to get out of their punishments. Whether it is something as extreme as hypnotizing the principal to retrieve a surveillance video, or as straightforward as creating a device that allows them to fill a chalkboard with sentences in a matter of minutes, the boys are always finding crafty ways to outsmart their principal and avoid punishment. Principal Krupp even fails to notice that he has hired aliens until the George and Harold bring it to their attention. Repeatedly, the children appear more intelligent than the blundering adults in charge.
Bullying is explored several times throughout the series. It is first explored when Professor Pippy P. Poopypants, a brilliant professor, is ridiculed for having a silly name and eventually driven insane because of the teasing, and turns from good to bad Later in the series, we find out that George and Harold were bullied in kindergarten by a Principal Krupp’s fourth grade nephew. Bullying is viewed throughout the novels in a negative light. George and Harold even try to help Professor Poopypants by advising him to change his name.
The theme of acceptance is explored on many different levels throughout the series. One one level it accompanies the anti-bullying theme, exploring the effects teasing has on both children and adults, making them feel like outsiders. George and Harold have spunky personalities, and rather than accepting that and encouraging their imagination and creativity, the teachers and principals are not accepting of the boys’ behaving, trying to change them through punishment, and attempts to stifle their energy.
Underwear is a repeated symbol throughout the series. Captain Underpants wears underwear on the outside of his clothing. The underwear symbolizes Principal Krupp’s transformation into Captain Underpants. Captain Underpants wears his underwear on the outside of his clothing, the opposite of what is considered normal behavior. However, the underwear on the outside of his clothing symbolizes a resistance to following the strict rules of society that his alter-ego, Principal Krupp, clings to. In contrast to the grumpy, stuffy, Principal Krupp, Captain Underpants is good and kind, fighting injustice. The Underwear is not only a humorous costume for Captain Underpants, but it also symbolizes that transformation.
Machines are found throughout the series as a recurring symbol. Although George and Harold often end up taking advantage of the machines, the machines are always created by a villain. The machines symbolize the loss of personality and dehumanization that would occur if George and Harold were to follow the rules and settle down as their teachers wish. The machines often cause problems that later need to be reverse.
Throughout the Captain Underpants series, robots are not only recurring characters, but also a recurring motif. George and Harold’s adversaries are continuously trying to take away the boys’ personality, by stifling their creativity and harnessing their spunk. Essentially, they are trying to take away their personality and turn them into robots who follow rules, do as they are told, sit still and listen quietly. Fortunately, the boys don’t listen. When robots appear as characters in the book, they do so as evil villains. They are always created by an adversary, typically one that begins as an authority figure or one that is content with following rules. As George and Harold battle the robots, they are not only battling the physical creatures, but also conformation to society.