Dr. Seuss's famous friend Maurice Sendak has this Seuss-setting related advice for us:
[Y]ou have entered Seussville, where questions and doubts are left at the door with the coo-coo something or other. Enjoy yourself. […] The skill is in delineating a convincing and riveting dream. And so we dream Seuss dreams: a cat dream, finally. (Source.)
Sendak is writing specifically about the settings of the (cat-filled) paintings in The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss, a collection of Seuss's private art, but we're convinced it applies to his stories, too.
After you experience the setting in The Cat In the Hat, you'll never look at the world in quite the same way again—just like Sally and her brother.
The Cat in the Hat's illustrations let us experience the setting through Seuss's imagination—not just our own.
Since the boy, our narrator, never leaves the house, neither do we. After the illustration of the house from the outside on the first page, all that we know about the outside world is the little that's seen through the window. Even within the house, we only gets bits and pieces: the room the kids are first in, the hallway, the stairs, and for a moment, Mother's bedroom.
That's all to say, the setting is just as mysterious as the message. Fancy.
Is The Cat in The Hat set in the real world or an imaginary world? We're going with option C: somewhere in between. Seuss was all about the surreal, where reality and imagination are almost impossible to separate.
We didn't just pull this idea out of our tall, striped hat. Seuss scholar Philip Nel makes the call in his book, which has a chapter entitled "Growing Up Surreal With Dr. Seuss":
[B]oth the Cat and the children's mother enter and exit through the same door and are part of the same 'real' world.
Or are there?
How's that for a delicious question? Young readers who are trying hard to figure out their world might be a bit confused by all this surrealism. In fact, some critics of Seuss argue that this sort of Seussy kookiness makes it hard for kids to know the difference between what's real and what's not. What do you think?
The rain adds to the something's-a-bit-off ambiance and provides an explanation for why the kids are bored and stuck in the house:
Too wet to go out
And too cold to play ball.
So we sat in the house.
We did nothing at all (9-12).
Just one question: why can the Cat, the Things, and the mother go out in the rain but not the kids? Is there some innate distinction between kids and, um, not-kids that makes this possible?