The Cat in the Hat
No offense Garfield, Felix, Tom, CatDog, Sylvester, Hello Kitty, Top Cat, and Simba (how'd we do?), but The Cat in the Hat is the only one who can come over and make a mess at our place. Why? Because he cleans up after himself. Plus, he's helped millions of kids around the world enjoy reading.
What makes this most famous literary cat so utterly irresistible? It's hard to say, since he's so slippery, so tricky, so full of surprises. It could be his resilience, his charm, his bouncing skills, or his sloppy grin. Lots of people are drawn to his rebelliousness and his silver tongue. Or maybe it's his love of fun, and of course, his determination to spread that love wherever he goes.
Oh, and did we mention this guy is Dr. Seuss's alter ego? Louis Menand puts it nicely:
The cat's improvisations with the objets trouvés in the home he has invaded are obviously an allegory for his creator's performance with the two hundred and twenty arbitrary words he has been assigned by his publisher. The cat is a bricoleur. He has no system-or, rather, his system is to have no system. He is compelled to make meaning from whatever is there. (Source)
Just like Seuss, the Cat is able to take what he has and run with it.
Sure, the Cat teaches these kids that it's okay to play with outside toys inside. But really, as chaotic as this all seems, Seuss exercises a lot of restraint, never really showing anything a non-Seussville kid could copy.
Think about it. Thing One and Thing Two don't commandeer the bicycle, and the balls aren't used to break windows or knock things down. No, most of the mess is caused by the kite-flying. And you know what? We've been trying to fly our kites in the house for years, but there never seems to be quite enough wind.
We're pretty sure the Cat's fun is all in good conscience.
Personal Fun Trainer
This whiskered wonder-cat appears to be a highly experienced and well-trained professional. We suspect he's a Santa Claus/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy type who exists to fill a particular role in the lives of youngsters. Just one difference: those characters stay hidden from children. The Cat, on the other hand, appears to children when the grownups are away.
(Yes, it's a little creepy, but just keep reminding yourself—it's a cat. And is it really any creepier than a guy in red suit coming into your house while you're asleep? Or somebody buying your teeth from you while you are—again—asleep and can't negotiate the price?)
The Cat is totally legit and probably licensed in several states. He comes during the day, like a regular person, when the kids are awake. All he does is show them how to have a good time. And responsibly, at that. He doesn't even try to get the kids to bounce on the ball—they might get hurt, after all. And most importantly, he shows respect for their mother and helps them clean up the mess.
Just one red mark on his permanent personal-fun-trainer record. Did you notice that the Cat disappears from the scene when his supervision is most needed? From the time he releases the Things from the FUN-IN-A-BOX to the time of their capture, he is nowhere to be seen. Was he napping? Raiding the liquor cabinet? Stealing the silver? Off with Mother?
Then again, if he had stuck around, maybe it would have been tougher for the boy to find the courage to take control. And that would mean a missed-out-on life lesson—which wouldn't be very Seussy at all, now would it?
Do you find yourself flipping back to the scenes where the Cat is balancing all the household items? We're pretty sure this is more than just a cool party trick. After all, isn't bouncing and balancing what family life is all about? Take a look:
"It is fun to have fun
But you have to know how.
I can hold up the cup
And the milk and the cake!
I can hold up these books!
And the fish on a rake!" (91-95)
Kind of sounds like a frazzled parent on the verge of a breakdown, don't you think?
The complex discussion of the "Home" gives The Cat in the Hat its serious edge. The Cat seems to tell us that home, however you define it, is supposed to be fun. All it takes is a little careful planning—and an emergency clean-up procedure—and the party can always start.
If He Doesn't Deliver the Communism in Thirty Minutes or Less, It's Free
If you've read our discussion of "Meaning," you probably have visions of Communism dancing through your head. Could it be that the Things are personifications of 1950s fears of anarchy and Communism? If so, the Cat is their handler, the one who controls them and decides when and where to unleash them.
So what does that make him? The Arch-Anarchist-Communist? Dun dun dun. But wait a second. He also bears a striking resemblance to Uncle Sam. Hmmm.
A Communist, or (gasp!) an Anarcho-Communist as an American icon was probably the worst all Cold War fears. Seuss seems to have been a highly patriotic dude, but he was certainly exercising his freedom to critique and criticize his own government.
Yes, through kids' books.