Dick and Jane

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Dick and Jane 1946 primer.jpg

"See Dick. See Dick run. Run, Dick, run."

Dick and Jane were the central characters of a series of books for beginner readers featuring short sentences and much repetition. Originally introduced in the 1930s, the books fell out of favour in the 1960s, partly due to changing ideas about reading education that would favour more challenging fare like the books of Dr. Seuss and partly due to mounting criticism about the idealised world they depicted, but "Dick and Jane" remains a byword for the entire genre.

You can see an extract from a typical Dick and Jane story here.

(In fairness, it should be noted that the Dick and Jane books actually came in several graded levels, of which only the first was written in the classic "Dick and Jane" style. More advanced books had practically normal sentences. But where's the fun in that?)

The UK equivalent was "Janet and John".

It may come as a surprise, but they are still being published in paperback by Penguin Books.

Tropes used in Dick and Jane include:
  • Affectionate Parody: Has been the subject of numerous affectionate (and not-so-affectionate) parodies over the decades.
  • Always Identical Twins: Pam and Penny.
  • Black Best Friend: Mike for Dick; Pam and Penny for Sally.
  • Beige Prose: The Most Triumphant Example. Justified in that the vocabulary was strictly controlled and new words were doled out sparingly as part of the books' educational system.
  • Cute Kitten: Puff.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: For educational rather than comedic purposes.
  • Hair of Gold
  • Humans Are White: Until 1964, at which point a black family was added to Dick and Jane's neighborhood in response to the outlawing of segregation.
  • Nemesis: Dr. Seuss, who actually bragged about helping to kill off the Dick and Jane books.
  • No Name Given: "Father" and "Mother"; justified in that children of that age in that era would only address their parents thus, and might not even know their given names yet.
  • Precious Puppy: Spot.
  • Scapegoat: For perceived deficiencies in the American education system during the 1950s and early 1960s.
  • Society Marches On: Assiduously averted. Illustrator Eleanor Campbell would regularly consult Sears catalogs so that each edition of the books reflected contemporary clothing and automobile styles.
  • Spiritual Successor: The Cat in the Hat and other Dr. Seuss books. Without Dick and Jane to open the way, Dr. Seuss would never have been inspired to create what he saw as a better alternative -- and even as he did so, he still followed much of their form in his works.
  • Token Minority: Mike, Pam and Penny after 1964.
  • Unfortunate Names: "Jane likes Dick." Yeah.
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue: Provided by education expert and Dick and Jane team member A. Sterl Artley during the lectures he gave between his retirement and his death in 1998. Audiences would always ask what had happened to Dick and Jane. Artley’s standard reply revealed that Dick became a politician using the slogan "Run, Dick, Run"; Jane became a staunch women's rights advocate; and Sally became an elementary school teacher, who frequently told her students to “Jump, children, jump.”

References in other works include:
  • Fun with Dick and Jane, a 1977 film (remade in 2005) which actually has nothing to do with the books apart from the title.
  • Between the Lions parodied the series with "Fun with Chicken Jane", featuring the adventures of Scot and Dot and their pet chicken, Jane, who was smarter than the pair of them put together and inevitably got badly battered while rescuing them from some on-coming calamity that they couldn't evade themselves because they were too busy describing it in short repetitive sentences.
  • A Calvin and Hobbes strip has Calvin writing a book report titled "The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes".
  • In the "Strangers Like Me" montage sequence of Disney's Tarzan, Jane shows Tarzan a picture book in which the visible writing says "See Jane. See Jane run."
  • Red Dwarf, "Waiting for God": Lister starts learning the written language of the Cat people, and is shown reading an impressive tome -- which becomes rather less impressive when he demonstrates his new-found ability to Rimmer by reading it out loud: "See Dick run. Run, Dick, run..."
  • See Spot Run, an unrelated screwball comedy movie that references Spot, Dick and Jane's dog.
  • See Jane Date, is a made for TV romantic comedy whose title references the style of the books.
  • The Far Side had a strip of a wolf reading to her pups. "See the wolves chase Dick and Jane."
  • In the online game Phrozenflame, the computer said, "c:\dos c:\dos\run run\dos\run". The same joke appears in an episode of The Simpsons.
  • The final stage of Earthworm Jim 2? "See Jim Run. Run, Jim, Run." It involved a lot of running.
  • It's pretty clear that Lt. Uhura is reading a Dick and Jane in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Changeling." "See the dog. See the dog run. The dog has a ball. The ball is blooie."
  • See Jane Run, a thriller novel with no connection beyond the title.
  • The opening theme of the TV show Raising Hope has sentences in the style of Dick and Jane: "See Grandpa work," "See Sabrina read," etc.
  • Dick and Jane and Vampires.