The Cat in the Hat
by Dr. Seuss
Mother is a mighty figure The Cat in The Hat. She and only she has influence over the Cat. And now that we think about it, they might even be in cahoots. After all, we don't know where Mother or the Cat are for a good part of the story. Suspicious.
This lady lives in a red house, wears a red coat, and disappears to attend who-knows-what secret meeting. It's no wonder she contributes to the Communist undertones in the book. Let's take a closer look at this woman and see what else she might be about.
We've heard that early drafts of what eventually became The Cat in The Hat featured a king cat and a queen cat. But when Seuss realized that the word "queen" wasn't on the list of words his publishers wanted in the book, he scrapped that idea (source).
So we don't have a queen, but we do have a powerful woman. Think about it. We barely get a glimpse of her, but she's almost constantly on everybody's mind (except for Thing One and Thing Two, who only think about fun). We can all relate to that, right? It's that nagging parental voice that pops into our heads whenever we do something naughty… or potentially naughty.
Even the Cat Respects Her
The first person to mention Mother is the Cat himself:
"A lot of good tricks.
I will show them to you.
Will not mind if I do." (38-41)
The Cat announces that she's gone for the day, and from that moment on, the kids and the fish can't stop thinking about her—with respect and, yes, even fear. Heck, the Cat even gives "Your mother" a line all its own, stressing her importance and ultimate authority.
The only appearance Mother physically makes is at the very end of the story. And boy is she sure of herself. From her leisurely stroll to the front door to her elegant clothing to her breezy tone ("Did you have any fun?" ), this woman exudes confidence. We get the feeling that she answers to no one and always knows way more than she lets on. If there's any evidence of the wild rumpus that went on, it surely won't escape her notice.
The Cat in The Hat is full of potentially subversive messages, but the Mother is a traditional authority figure who has power over even the mayhem-loving Cat. Traditional values appear to be reinforced by the end of the tale.
But are they? Probably just enough to creep past the censors and keep kids from making huge messes in their homes and blaming it on huge cats.
Yes, Mom is an authority figure, but how traditional is she? After all, she's kind of provoking the norms of the time. Just think of the stigma associated with single motherhood in Leave it to Beaver 1950s. And there sure doesn't seem to be any father involved here. Even the mother's bedroom looks like it's set up for one. Bottom line: the mother is single—and unapologetically so.
Plus, Mom is allowed to go out for the day; when she comes back, everything still in order. Could the book's overarching message—it's okay to have fun—apply to both kids and parents? Think how far this image is from Seuss's Horton Hatches an Egg (1940), in which a lazy, irresponsible single mother bird abandons her egg to go vacation on the beach. Boy does seventeen years make a difference.
"[W]hat private demons or desires compelled this mother to leave two young children at home all day, with the front door unlocked, under the supervision of a fish?" (Source.)
Good stinkin' question. What on earth is she doing while she's away? And more importantly, how does it affect the kids?
According to Louis Menand, who posed the question, it drives them crazy. He argues: "We don't want to be amused; we don't even want to amuse ourselves. We want to be taken care of" (source). These kids might need some major therapy after what goes down while Mom is away.
The Mother in The Cat in the Hat seems to be independent, strong, and possibly single. But, she also leaves her kids at home alone. On purpose. With the door unlocked. In a neighborhood inhabited by talking animals.
Sure, if the Cat hadn't showed up, Sally and her brother might have stayed parked right there at the window all day long. That's how well-behaved these two are. But that's not really the point. After all, what's one of the worst things that could happen if a kid is left alone? High on that list is a stranger coming in and causing them harm.
And that's exactly what happens—or does it?
Here, the home invader turns out to be a good, and actually quite responsible guy. What are we to make of this?
Mother's Not-So-Little Helper
Maybe, just maybe, the Cat was hired by the Mother.
Here's our evidence:
(1) The Cat knows she's not there, and he tells the kids she won't mind if he is. How could he know these things if he hasn't talked to her?
(2) The Mother is just outside the window, walking in front of the house, before the Cat leaves with the FUN-IN-A-BOX and comes back to clean up. Mother couldn't have missed him driving his big red cleanup-mobile into and out of her house, could she?
(3) The mother and the Cat both seem to want the same thing for the children: for them to have fun. After all, when Mom comes back, the first thing she says is "Did you have any fun?" (296)
Is it possible that Mom thinks her kids are little too well-behaved and that they need to work on taking life less seriously? Whether she called on the Cat to help or he just happened to appear when he's needed, we're pretty sure Mother would approve. After all, he teaches her kids to have fun and clean up after themselves. What's not to like?