Recently my daughter pulled together a pile of books to give to Goodwill. Among them was The Cat in the Hat. It is such a classic book and I have read it countless times to my children over the years, I just couldn’t part with it. I surreptitiously removed it from the pile and slipped it onto my bookshelf.
Back when I was in college, I had taken an honors-level seminar and one of the books we studied was The Cat in the Hat. That section of the course was fascinating and made me look at this book from a completely different perspective. Even now, reading it again, I discovered more symbolism that I had never seen before. I decided to point out some of them so that the next time you read this book (and you will read it again) you will be aware of the symbolism in this story.
Let’s start with an easy one first: the mom. Have you ever noticed that there is no father anywhere in this book? It is very clearly a single mom raising two children. If you look on pages 42 and 43, you will see the mother’s bedroom, with a twin bed and one pillow. So the first thing to think about when reading this tale is whether the mom is divorced or has chosen to have children out of wedlock. Now, this may not seem like a big deal in today’s society, but consider the fact that this book was published in 1957 and society was much different back then.
Now let’s talk about the Fish. After the Cat, the Fish is the next most prominent character in the book. For me, the Fish is an obvious Christ symbol, not only from an icon perspective but also based upon what the Fish says. The Fish is the voice of morality in the story, cautioning the children about letting the Cat in and about the dangers of participating in the antics. The Fish is constantly warning about the repercussions.
Still not convinced about the Fish? Let’s look a little closer. On page 14, the Cat performs his first trick, balancing the Fish, a cup, and a book. We have a sort of trinity here: the Fish being Christ, the cup representing the Grail, and the book as the Bible. I sincerely doubt that these were random choices on the part of the author.
OK, now let’s look at the Cat. The Cat is a manifestation of the trickster archetype. The trickster has been found in literature throughout the ages, whether Anansi, Puck, or Satan. The Cat is just another interpretation of this archetype, and like most tricksters, the Cat also experiences the proverbial fall. This is shown on pages 18 through 21. The Cat is boastful and full of pride, showing off his tricks and what he can do. Pride and hubris almost always precede a fall, and the Cat immediately falls and everything crashes around him.
Then there is the question of the box. When the Cat opens the box, Thing 1 and Thing 2 emerge and proceed to wreak havoc in the home. I cannot help but connect the box with the myth of Pandora. There is a message here that certain boxes are best left closed.
Maybe you are thinking that I have read too much into this book. I don’t think so. Myths and archetypes are eternal and that is why they continue to recur in art and literature. Just because a book is a “children’s book” does not exclude it from being an expression of these symbols. In fact, one might say that young minds are better able to grasp this type of symbolism.
So that is that, regarding the Cat in the Hat.