Overthinking The Cat In The Hat

Once again, it’s that time when after reading Kiddo#4 the same book too often, I begin to overthink it.

It’s my opinion that The Cat In The Hat doesn’t really exist.  No, I know the books are fiction. What I mean is that within the story itself, the Cat doesn’t exist. He’s an imaginary construct created by Sally and the narrator.

Both stories begin with Sally and the narrator being faced with a task they don’t like. (The narrator is a boy the same age as she, but never named in these two books; a later book refers to him as Dick.) In the first, they’re stuck indoors while it’s raining; in the second they’re shoveling the snow in their front yard. In both cases, their mother is out of the house for the day and it’s assumed the father, although he exists, is not going to come home.

Then the Cat comes along right when they’re feeling bored, and mayhem ensues. He messes up the house, plays games he shouldn’t be playing, and breaks all the rules. The rule-breaking is important: little kids love that he does it, and that’s half the appeal of the books. But the characters themselves would have been vicariously living through the Cat as they remained safely within the rules themselves. (Which is exactly what our children are doing as they listen.)

The rule-breaking is so important that both books have an external voice of conscience: the fish in the first book, and the narrator himself in the second.

The Cat makes a mess so tremendous that no one could possibly clean it. And that’s where I think we find our proof that the Cat never existed at all: because in both books, when the mess can’t possibly get any worse, the Cat somehow puts everything to rights. In the first book he picks up everything just as the mother is walking in the door, and in the second he uses a kind of magic to not only get rid of the pink spots but also to finish shoveling.

And then, when he’s no longer necessary (because the walk is shoveled, or because Mom is home to alleviate the boredom) he becomes compliant  for the first time and vanishes, or rather the kids say, “Okay, done now!”) and there’s no evidence left behind. Which is telling, because at least the cake should have been ruined in both books, and the broken things couldn’t just have been fixed.

Therefore I submit: even within his own stories, the Cat doesn’t exist.


  1. Gary Corby

    Yep, sounds like over-analysis to me!

    But actually, I agree. Kids will think up an imaginary person to explain the mess in the kitchen.

    1. philangelus

      That’s why I have cats, actually. So I can blame them for the mess. “The cat did that.” “Actually, that mess has been there for seven years, and we’ve only owned the cat for five.” “Still. Cat.”

  2. Cheryl

    Overthinking, yes, but it’s a VERY good analysis!

  3. GAMZu

    How funny! I was thinking about those books as well. Something along very similar lines. We have the 2nd book, and I’m going to buy the original for my kids. 🙂

  4. capt_cardor

    Maybe he’s there sometimes and sometimes he’s not. Sort of, the Cheshire Cat in the Hat.

    Maybe not.

    1. Kaci

      But the Cheshire Cat is evil. 😛

      Then, I had friends disturbed by the Cat in the Hat…

      1. philangelus

        I’m not fond of him myself. He has no boundaries and no respect for others. I can’t imagine willingly allowing him to come be with my family.

        1. Kaci

          True. I really don’t remember reading many Dr. Seuss books. Course…I was reading Great Illustrated Classics….

  5. jaed

    I always thought the kids themselves were the Cat.

  6. Kaci

    Sort of like how the dolls in A Little Princess come to life when you leave the room and return to their positions before you come back.

  7. Jane C

    So what’s your opinion of “Phineas and Ferb?” Are they really imaginative kids who happen to be always misplacing their toy platypus? (DH’s theory)

    1. philangelus

      I’ve never actually seen Phineas and Ferb. But maybe Capt Cardor will answer because I know his daughters watch it.

  8. Bunny

    Huh, I think you might have just figured out Schrödinger’s cat paradox in there. That or I’m tired and just way read into that as well.


  9. capt_cardor

    Bunny is right. The Cat in the Hat may be the ultimate Quantum kitty. On the other hand, Dr. Suess may be a closet Existentialist and his cat may be different things at different times. In that case the cat might be the spirit of “Jean Paul Chartreux”.

    As for “Phineas and Ferb” Jane C’s idea reminds me of “Calvin and Hobbes”, since Hobbes is a stuffed toy in reality (i.e. when his family or the little girl next door is around), but is a ferociously playful Tiger in Calvin’s imagination.

    In that sense, the boys always manage to create an adventurous and playful world with all their friends, but when Candace (the teenage girl) forces them to face reality their creations disappear. No adult, or overly reality driven teen, seems to see them. To their great loss.

    Sort of like the Totoro’s or Soot Sprites in Miyazaki’s “My Neighbor Totoro”. Only the children can see them, but the adults realize this and seem to accept it as part of this world’s reality. Very comforting actually.

    1. philangelus

      Hobbes seems to be in some ways an externalized conscience for Calvin, aside from the times he tackles Calvin into the snowbanks. He functions as a rule-keeper whereas the Cat functions as a vicarious breaker-of-rules.

      But in both cases, the imaginary figure manifests the opposite of the child’s behavior: either somewhat ordered in the case of Hobbes or completely disordered in the case of the Cat (where the imagineers are two fairly orderly children. I can’t imagine what I’d return to if I left Kiddo#2 and Kiddo#3 home alone during the rain for two hours. It’d be worse than the Cat’s antics.)

  10. Kaci

    I can’t quite imagine leaving two kids that age home alone all day, period. I wasn’t allowed to stay by myself til I was 12, and then it was only for a few hours (like Mom and Dad’s date night).