Fun_People Archive
9 Jul
the semiotics of The Cat in the Hat

Date: Fri,  9 Jul 93 23:31:03 PDT
To: Fun_People
Subject: the semiotics of The Cat in the Hat

[I bet you didn't know you would be getting this high-brow intellectual stuff
here... We got it all!  -psl] 

 From: <!pep>
 From: (Rich Schaefer)
 From: (Mike Fleischner)

 _The Cat in the Hat_
 by Dr. Seuss, 61 pages. Beginner Books, $3.95

 The Cat in the Hat is a hard-hitting novel of prose and poetry in which the
 author re-examines the dynamic rhyming schemes and bold imagery of some of
 his earlier works, most notably _Green Eggs and Ham_, _If I ran the Zoo_,
 and _Why can't I shower with Mommy?_ In this novel, Theodore Geisel,
 writing under the pseudonym Dr. Seuss, pays homage to the great Dr. Sigmund
 Freud in a nightmarish fantasy of a renegade feline helping two young
 children understand their own frustrated sexuality.

 The story opens with two youngsters, a brother and a sister, abandoned by
 their mother, staring mournfully through the window of their single-family
 dwelling. In the foreground, a large tree/phallic symbol dances wildly in
 the wind, taunting the children and encouraging them to succumb to the
 sexual yearnings they undoubtedly feel for each other. Even to the most
 unlearned reader, the blatant references to the incestuous relationship the
 two share set the tone for Seuss' probing examination of the satisfaction
 of primative needs. The Cat proceeds to charm the wary youths into engaging
 in what he so innocently refers to as "tricks." At this point, the fish, an
 obvious Christ figure who represents the prevailing Christian morality,
 attempts to warn the children, and thus, in effect, warns all of humanity
 of the dangers associated with the unleashing of primal urges. In response
 to this, the Cat proceeds to balance the aquatic naysayer on the end of his
 umbrella, essentially saying, "Down with morality; down with God!"

 After poohpoohing the righteous rantings of the waterlogged Christ figure,
 the Cat begins to juggle several icons of Western culture, most notably two
 books, representing the Old and New Testaments, and a saucer of lactal
 fluid, an ironic reference to maternal loss the two children experienced
 when their mother abandoned them "for the afternoon." Our heroic Id adds to
 this bold gesture a rake and a toy man, and thus completes the Oedipal

 Later in the novel, Seuss introduces the proverbial Pandora's box, a large
 red crate out of which the Id releases Thing One, or Freud's concept of
 Ego, the division of the psyche that serves as the conscious mediator
 between the person and reality, and Thing Two, the Superego which functions
 to reward and punish through a system of moral attitudes, conscience and
 guilt. Referring to this box, the Cat says, "Now look at this trick. Take a
 look!" In this, Dr. Seuss uses the children as a brilliant metaphor for the
 reader, and asks the reader to re-examine his own inner self.

 The children, unable to control the Id, Ego, and Superego, allow these
 creatures to run free and mess up the house, or more symbolically, control
 their lives. This rampage continues until the fish, or Christ symbol, warns
 that the mother is returning to reinstate the Oedipal triangle that existed
 before her abandonment of the children. At this point, Seuss introduces a
 many-armed cleaning device which represents the psychoanalytic couch, which
 proceeds to put the two youngsters' lives back in order.

 With powerful simplicity, clarity, and drama, Seuss reduces Freud's
 concepts on the dynamics of the human psyche to an easily understood
 gesture. Mr. Seuss' poetry and chice of words is equally impressive and
 serves as a splendid couterpart to his bold symbolism. In all, his writing
 style is quick and fluid, making _The Cat in the Hat_ impossible to put
 down. While this novel is 61 pages in length, and one can read it in five
 minutes or less, it is not until after multiple readings that the genius of
 this modern day master becomes apparent.

 a book review by Josh LeBeau (from the Koala, UCSD's humour newspaper)

[=] © 1993 Peter Langston []