At first glance, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back may seem to be about an abundance of silliness and messiness. And it totally is. We mean, come on, a cat just appears out of nowhere, starts multiplying himself, and makes a huge mess all over the house. It's a total circus.
But, of course, there's more too it than that. The focus here is that horrible out-of-control feeling you get when there's a huge mess—literal or figurative—and you just don't know how to contain it. Mini stress becomes whopper stress, and things totally spiral out of control.
Cat to the rescue!
The Cat's go-to solution (after trying some not-so-successful other ideas) is help. That's right. All it takes is a little help from his friends, and everything seems a bit more manageable. And no matter how small, each helper counts. After all, at the end of the day, it's microscopic Z who manages to fix everything up just right. They can't even see him, but that doesn't mean he's inconsequential. As far as impact goes, he's larger than life.
Not a fan of that moral? How about this one: never give up. The narrator seems ready to throw in the towel—or at least to kick the Cat in the Hat out—throughout the whole story. He doesn't want to deal with the Cat, and he'd rather just face the horrible spot than figure out another solution. But the Cat in the Hat isn't a giver-upper, that's for sure, and—wouldn't you know it?—it pays off.
Seuss wouldn't be Seuss without a little attention-paying to reading, literacy, and language (oh my!). So let's dig in.
Smartypants critic Louis Menand reminds us that The Cat in the Hat Comes Back was published right around the same time as Noam Chomsky and Claude Lévi-Strauss were digging into linguistics like it was their job—which, we guess, it was. (Source. And for more on literary critics, check out Shmoop's guide to the literary critics.)
First, we'll let Menand take it away. If you don't like big words and scary theoretical concepts, you can just skip down to our translation.
These semiotic felines do exactly what a deconstructionist would predict: rather than containing the stain, they disseminate it. Everything turns pink. The chain of signification is interminable and, being interminable, indeterminate. The semantic hygiene fetishized by the children is rudely violated; the "system" they imagined is revealed to have no inside and no outside. It is revealed to be, in fact, just another bricolage. The only way to end the spreading stain of semiosis is to unleash what, since it cannot be named, must be termed "that which is not a sign." This is the Voom, the final agent in the cat's arsenal. (Source)
Okay, here's the translation. A bunch of name-droppable critics, including one super high falutin' guy called Derrida, were part of a school called deconstruction. They had this idea that there were always about a zillion ways of reading something—including individual words. So every time you think you know what something means, well, you don't. Why not? Because that one thing means another thing… which means another thing… which means another thing… you get the point.
Example: What's a cat? It's a feline. What's a feline? It's a member of the biological family of cats. What's a cat? It's a feline. (Get it?) It's sort of like having a conversation with a two-year-old. But then again, isn't a lot of theory?
Sounds a lot like that pink stain, doesn't it? No matter how much the Cat tries to get it out—Lady Macbeth-style—it just keeps transferring over to another object in the house. And it's probably no coincidence that all the cats who try to help are named after letters.
Man, we knew Seuss liked to talk about reading, but holy stinkin' moly. Who knew he was a deconstructionist?
You might remember from The Cat in the Hat that Seuss loved him some Cold War allegories. Since The Cat in the Hat Comes Back was published in 1958—right smack dab in the heat of the conflict—it's no surprise that there's a reddish/pinkish hue to the whole thing.
Here's how the experts think of it:
The experts agree: Mr. Menand writes, "The association with nuclear holocaust and its sterilizing fallout, wiping the planet clean of pinkness and pinkos, is impossible to ignore" (source).
So how do you read it? Are we talking about kid-friendly morals, literacy and language, or all-out nuclear war?