BROTW (Book Review of the Week)
Date: Wed, 18 May 94 12:51:16 PDT
Subject: BROTW (Book Review of the Week)
Forwarded-by: bostic@vangogh.CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
_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 primitive 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 the 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 triangle.
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 choice of words is equally impressive
and serves as a splendid counterpart 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.
© 1994 Peter Langston