The Cat in the Hat is a delightful, subversive tale that exposes the emptiness and rigid conformity of the suburban lifestyle.
The opening lines provide a biting critique of suburbia’s lifelessness. “It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house, all that cold, cold wet day.” And later, “So all we could do was to Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! And we did not like it, not one little bit.”
The children are suffering the boredom and ennui endemic of life in the suburbs. They cannot visit their friends’ homes because there are not enough sidewalks. And even if there were, their friends live too far away to walk. The children are trapped in their subdivision, perhaps even a cul-de-sac! They are surrounded by a nothing but houses for miles around, a cookie cutter forest of blandness.
No wonder the children are bored! If only they lived in a vibrant, walkable city! A mixed use community would provide shops, cafes, libraries, rec centers and cultural institutions to help stimulate these poor childrens’ imaginations and let their spirits soar.
Yet into their world of suburban despair steps the Cat in the Hat. Though on the surface an antagonist, the Cat is better understood as a symbol of liberation. He comes to free the children from their rigid, conventional lives. His efforts represent every suburbanite’s desire to transcend the limits of their dull, conformist environment.
The children are at first overwhelmed by the Cat’s radical perspective. The Cat’s invitation to freedom confuses them. “Then Sally and I did not know what to say. Our mother was out of the house for the day.”
Freed from Mother’s control, the children are tempted to let go of the norms imposed on them and revel in “Up-up-up with a fish,” and other so called disrupted behavior.
The fish attempts to bring the children back into their comfort zone, but his motivation is questionable. Like many among marginalized peoples, the fish seeks to overcome his limited role in the household as a mere “pet” by overcompensating in support of the oppressive system that holds him back. He is Mother’s proxy instead of speaking with his own heart.
Unfortunately, the power of conformity is too much for the children. Realizing they cannot defy Mother directly, the boy attempts to “be a man” by bullying the Cat and demanding he stop his “antics.” All is not lost though. Sally, the only named figure in the book, is a sign of things to come. Her silence in the face of the Cat’s liberation efforts shows her tacit agreement with the need for change. It is through her, a pre-womyn, that we can see a ray of hope for the future.