“The Cat in the Hat”: Pro Enlightenment or Pro Discipline?

The classic Cat in the Hat story by Dr. Seuss is an all-time favorite of mine. I always wanted to make in a mess when I was a kid in my house just like the two kids in the story, and then not having to clean it up myself? Woo hoo! That would have been the best rainy day ever! But, ironically, the kids do not want to play with the cat. They do not want him to mess up anything or break any rules. Are they just really good kids? Or was Dr. Seuss indirectly pointing out the radical element of chaos in a normal child’s life?

Wether Seuss says that the cat’s doings are wrong or not is never stated, but he does make a point to note that the mother will think the cat’s doings are wrong if she were to find out. The children seem extremely concerned about the reaction of their mother, constantly telling the cat things like ‘no’ and ‘leave’. I could be totally off, but this goes against some of the principles Locke lays out at one part of his Thoughts Concerning Education. Seuss suggests that the kids do not want to have fun with the cat while their mother is away. They would rather be bored doing nothing instead of causing a little bit of mischief and having a tiny ounce of fun in the process. Locke, on the other hand, says “they [children] should be allow’d the liberties and freedoms suitable to their ages, and not be held under unnecessary restraints, when in their parents’ or governor’s sight.” It is also interesting that Locke includes that last part of the sentence, because it puts Seuss’ situation even more against Locke’s. However, what if Seuss already knew this, and better yet, agreed with Locke? What if he had this whole underlying message going on that readers had to figure out: questioning the role of children concerning the parents’ expectations? Because honestly, what kids don’t want to have crazy fun adventures on a blah, rainy day?

These are questions we will never know the answers to, but we can look at The Cat in the Hat in comparison with Blake’s The Schoolboy. I personally feel like the ‘schoolboy’ would be extremely jealous at the two kids sitting at home with the cat in the hat. Then, after knowing their reaction to the cat’s doings, he would be mad at them for not taking advantage of the situation. Overall, the schoolboy and the two kids at home are on very opposite ends of the spectrum imagination-wise. Blake writes:

“How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing?
How can a child, when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring?”

Basically, he’s saying ‘How in the world is a kid supposed to be cooped up and still be a kid?’; and what he would say to the Seuss kids would be something like ‘What’s wrong with you? Are you even real kids?’. Which brings me to my overall theory: The kids in Cat in the Hat are not even supposed to be true kids at all. Dr Seuss used them as a model for what kids ‘should’ be in society’s eyes. By society, I mean the society at the time of this short story. Maybe Suess would think differently if he lived in today’s times, because according to Strasburger, “notions of childhood are constantly being defined, debated, and renegotiated over the course of history.”

On the other hand, if one reads The Cat in the Hat very literally, one could argue that Strasburger would in fact be totally on the two kids’ side. Strasburger is all about parental control and setting boundaries, even though he just touches on children and media.

When reading this story to your children, they might learn to choose right over wrong and to follow the rules, but I’m convinced that Seuss wants us to realize how messed up our upbringings are, and how a little fun never hurt anyone. I hope, at least, that Dr. Seuss was an enlightened person, because many of his books can be read as enlightening works filled with great advice.



2 thoughts on ““The Cat in the Hat”: Pro Enlightenment or Pro Discipline?

  1. Wow, I really like this interpretation of The Cat in the Hat! I definitely never thought about it in that way. The only thing this is missing is a reference to Strasburger, which was a required part of the assignment. For now the grade is a U, but should be an S when you include an element from Strasburger.

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