I have to confess to being disturbed by Dr. Seuss. I have always loved his pithy little rhymes, and I am always relieved when Katie picks one of those shiny Dr Seuss books for story time, instead of one of those insipid Brother Bear books, or something like that. (“I’m not one of those wild bears; I walk on two legs!” Such an improvement- a bear in short pants.)
But the Cat in the Hat, in particular, disturbs me. I never knew whether I liked him or not as a child. He was always causing all kinds of trouble, but he just wanted to have fun, and always skated out just before real trouble (usually in the person of Mother) arrived. Of course, I’m basing this on just one book. I know there’s a second one but I’ve never read it. One gets the impression from this one book that it is meant to be emblematic. The Cat is an icon, a totem. He is representative, and his behavior is meant to be understood as a pattern. The kids recognize the Cat instantly when he comes in; he talks about what he ‘always’ does. One can imagine a dozen or so ‘lost’ Cat books. So is he a troublemaker? Or just a lovable guy wanting to have some fun and play with kids? I find myself simultaneously drawn to and terrified of the Cat.
“Look at me! Look at me! Look at me now!
It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how!”
So the Cat is a classic narcissist. He doesn’t care about these kids. He just wants to have fun. He finds some vulnerable kids without adult supervision and uses them for self-gratification. He uses them as a way to have a sense of identity, being. He can only feel alive when others are responding to what he is doing. He is basically amoral; only his pleasure matters, not any trouble he may cause. He uses entertainment and amusement to marginalize the voice of reason and caution, the fish. It’s all about him.
Even by the end, after he makes a huge mess and is on the verge of being caught by the mother, when he trots out his weird multi-armed car, it is still just for the purpose of self-gratification. He cleans up the mess in order to regain the kids’ approval lost by making the mess in the first place. He is anxious to let them know- “I ALWAYS clean up all my toys”. It’s still about him. And the kids are left compromised by guilt- their involvement, however peripheral, makes it impossible for them to come clean and tell their mother what happened. So the cat comes uninvited, for self-aggrandizement only, makes a huge mess, skates out just ahead of real trouble, and leaves the kids morally compromised as a result. It is all ultimately about the Cat, for the Cat- the all-important thing is that the Cat has fun, and is well-thought of. He’s the ultimate navel-gazer, Nitzchean, 60’s hippie. He can’t stand for anyone to not love him, regardless of how much trouble he causes.
Now I know why I’m so uneasy about the Cat. The Cat is Bill Clinton.