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The Cat in the Hat

The Cat in the Hat


by Dr. Seuss

The Cat in the Hat Writing Style

Energizing, Innovative, Traditional, and Repetitive, and Repetitive, and Repetitive

Clearly we have no choice but to read The Cat in the Hat aloud. Go ahead and try these lines on for size:

"They are tame. Oh so tame!
They have come here to play.
They will give you some fun
On this wet, wet, wet day."

Energizing, right?

Before you use this as a bedtime story, keep in mind that the plethora of exclamation points alone will keep you and your young ones awake and bouncing off the walls late into the night. You might want to try Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book instead. Just sayin'.

Innovate or Bust

Dr. Seuss is known for making up words, using uncommon words, and adapting existing words for his own purposes. For The Cat in the Hat, though, he stuck to a list of 220 distinct, practical words—all first-grader appropriate—to craft his masterpiece.

Wait, what? A list of words? Where did it come from? Who gave it to him?

(Was it the Communists?)

Okay, we think you've earned a quick and dirty history snack (or three):

(1) In 1955, Rudolf Flesch published a bestseller called Why Johnny Can't Read, which attacked poor ol' Dick and Jane. It also promoted phonics for teaching kids to read, while denouncing rote memorization as anti-reading. (Dun dun dun.) His book handily came with a list of words parents could use to help their kids read.

(2) In 1957, John Hersey wrote an essay attacking the Dick and Jane books and calling Dr. Seuss "one of those 'imaginative geniuses' whom publishers might turn to in the hope of enriching the books they produced for the schools" (source).

(3) William Spaulding (head honcho of Houghton Mifflin's education arm) read both the book and the article; and then he recruited Seuss to write a new kind of kids' book. He sent Seuss several lists of words in several different categories. From these lists, Seuss chose 199; then he added another twenty-one, making—ta-da!—220 separate words. (If you want to read the longer version of the story, check out our source, Louis Menand's "Cat People: What Dr. Seuss Really Taught Us," or this nice little biography.)

Bottom line? We'll let the experts take it away:

"The Cat in the Hat" transformed the nature of primary education and the nature of children's books. It not only stood for the idea that reading ought to be taught by phonics; it also stood for the idea that language skills—and many other subjects—ought to be taught through illustrated storybooks, rather than primers and textbooks. (Source)

Seuss was challenged to write a book that would be both effective in teaching reading and—get this—fun. How about that? Shmoop thinks reading and fun go together like popcorn and Milk Duds… really well.

Looks like sometimes the greatest challenges yield the most amazing innovations.

Think about it. Two hundred and twenty words might sound like a lot to a kid, but there are countless words in the English language alone, including over 84 million chemical substances—just to put things in context (source).

Seuss's two-year completion of this story echoes—and amplifies—the message that the Cat gives to Sally and her brother: make the best of what you've got.

Whose Line Is This Anyway?

Almost everyone in this story speaks in rhyme. We're thinking of adopting that strategy at Shmoop, just to see who the one party-pooper "Mother" would be (her two lines don't rhyme).

It looks simple at first. The first three stanzas are classic quatrains with ABCB rhyme schemes, like this:

I sat there with Sally.
We sat there, we two.
And I said, "How I wish
We had something to do!"

The enjambment you see here is what makes things flow so smoothly in The Cat in the Hat.

True to this book's spirit of innovation, Seuss's fourth stanza is a kind-of-quatrain, but he's done something to it:

So all we could do was to
And we did not like it.
Not one little bit
. (13-19)

If the four "Sit!"s were all together on one line, we'd have our classic quatrain. But, no—the classic form is disrupted. And since Seuss was a poet (we know it), we'd say that this sudden disruption is intentional, giving us a glimpse of the boy's rebel spirit while foreshadowing the mayhem to come.

Although Seuss loved him some disruption, he consistently returns to the norm. In The Cat and the Hat,this relationship between innovation and tradition is always in play. In fact, in lines 89-104, we've got four perfect quatrains in a row while the Cat is at the height of his jumping frenzy. There Seuss goes, breaking from tradition even as he relies on it.

What Did You Say Again?

Okay, it's time to talk about the elephant in the room—repetition.

Okay, it's time to talk about the elephant in the room—repetition.

Wait, what? It's not cute when we do it? Well it sure works for Seuss.

Since the Doctor only had 220 words to work with, it's no surprise that there's some repetition. Often, the repetition comes at the beginning of verses (a.k.a. anaphora). During the cat's cleanup, the repetition helps us feel the rhythm of order being restored:

He picked up the cake,
And the rake, and the gown,
And the milk, and the strings,
And the book, and the dish

Seuss is pretty clever with his repetition, even bringing the beginning and end of the tale together. Early on, the boy tells us "I sat there with Sally./We sat there we two" (5-6). And in the third to the last quatrain, he tells us, "Then our mother came in/ And she said to us two" (294-295). The word "two" gives us a sense of formal unity and stresses the close relationship these siblings seem to have.

It's not only the words that are repeated, either—the "Illustrations" are repetitive, too. Good thing they're awesome.

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