Perhaps the best-known of Dr. Seuss’s rhyming books, ‘The Cat in the Hat’, was published in 1957. It uses anthropomorphism to describe a tall, black, and white cat that wears and red and white striped hat and red bowtie. Seuss wrote this book as a response to discussions about the effectiveness of the current market of children’s literature. The book was an immediate success and has remained so since.
Explore The Cat in the Hat
The story takes place in a short period of time, starting out with the cat barging into Sally and her brother’s home and showing off his balancing skills. As the fish predicted, the cat falls, making a huge mess of everything he was holding. As if to remedy the problem, he brings in Thing One and Thing Two, who only make the mess worse. Finally, in the end, the cat comes back with his huge cleaning machine and gets everything sorted right before the children’s mother gets home.
You can read the full book here.
The origins of ‘The Cat in the Hat’ have several different explanations. The main one, which has likely become apocryphal at this point, fits in perfectly with the reader’s image of Theodor Geisel. Geisel noted personally that he wrote the book in response to a Life magazine article titled “Why Do Students Bog Down on First R? A Local Committee Sheds Light on a National Problem: Reading”. In it, the writer John Hersey criticized the normal “school primers” that young kids were made to read, such as those featuring Dick and Jane.
They were overwhelmingly boring, Hersey believed, as did Geisel. He was determined to write a book for six/seven-year-olds that made them want to read it. The vocabulary in the novel was inspired by a list of words that all young children should know. The final version of ‘The Cat in the Hat’ only uses 236 words, a solid representation of the list. Geisel described at one point that he was frustrated with that very list of words and finally ended up choosing the first two that rhymed to create his story. They were, of course, “cat” and “hat”. Other accounts suggest he got the inspiration from a woman in white gloves on an elevator.
Structure and Form
‘The Cat in the Hat’ by Dr. Seuss is a sixty-one-page children’s book that Weisel published in 1957. The book has 31 pages on which text appears, all of which are analyzed in this article. The majority of the lines in ‘The Cat in the Hat’ rhyme in a pattern of ABCB, although sometimes there are alterations. Dr. Seuss often made use of other common patterns like AABB and ABAB. Although Seuss’s use of nonsense language is less evident in this book than in others, it is still worthy of discussion in relation to ‘The Cat in the Hat’.
Dr. Seuss makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Cat in the Hat’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, repetition, and humor. The latter is one of the most important techniques at work in the poem/book. Readers, especially young readers, are meant to laugh at the Cat in the Hat’s antics. The perfectly rhymed language, in addition to the lighthearted content and illustrations, are an all-around pleasing and humorous package.
The cat shows off his balancing skills at the beginning of the book, adding more and more complex items to his piles. His inevitable crashing fall to the ground is only one moment that a young reader might find funny.
Seuss also used anthropomorphism in a humorous way. He dressed the cat in a hat and allows the fish to chastise the children and express his general displeasure with the entire situation.
Alliteration is a type of repetition that is concerned with the use and reuse of words that begin with the same consonant sound. For example, “sun” and “shine” in the first line of the book and “fun” and “fish” throughout the rest of the book. He also uses repetition more generally when he repeats entire phrases. For example, when the cat says, “Look at me” while balancing on the ball.
In the first ten pages of ‘The Cat in the Hat,’ the cat barges into a home belonging to two children. These two kids, who began the story complaining about the weather, are shocked to see him. But, in the land of Dr. Seuss, they do not question his presence. He’s a large cat wearing a hat, and besides his surprise entrance, nothing is unusual to them.
The cat is an upbeat, fantastical character who is determined to improve the day for Sally and her brother. Despite the fish’s pleading and complaining, they let the cat show off his balancing skills. He stands on a ball while holding various items to his hat, tail, and hands. The fish repetitively tells the cat that he doesn’t want to fall while Seuss uses more repetition to try to keep the young brother and sister’s attention on the cat.
‘Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
Pages eight through ten are a great example of accumulation. The cat continues to add more and more to his balancing act, creating tension as the reader becomes more certain that he’s going to fall at any moment.
I can hold up the cup
and the milk and the cake!
I can hold up these books!
and the fish on a rake!
I can hold the toy ship
and a little toy man!
Between the tenth and eleventh pages of text, things change for the cat, he suddenly loses his balance and falls on his head.
He came down with a bump
from up there on the ball.
and Sally and I,
we saw ALL the things fall!
The fish, who has protested all of this from the beginning, seems to have been proven right. He did end up falling, but safely and humorously landed in a teapot. Unfortunately for Sally and her brother, the house has become quite a mess. Their mother is going to be home soon, and it’s clear that they’re going to get in huge trouble. This is something that all young readers can relate to. But, unsurprisingly, the cat has a solution. He drags an enormous red box inside, and out of it pops Thing One and Thing Two.
Then, out of the box
came Thing Two and Thing One!
And they ran to us fast.
They said, ‘how do you do?
Would you like to shake hands
with Thing One and Thing Two?’
The kids shake hands with these two unusual creatures, and off they run to create more fun on the rainy day. The fish, of course, protests.
As has been the case throughout the first pages of the book, the cat’s solutions to the rainy day blues are not exactly making things better. Thing One and Thing Two decide to fly kites inside, one of which has the mother’s dress attached to it. The other, as seen in the illustration, is attached to the teapot the fish is now sitting in. Suddenly, outside the window, the fish points out their mother’s leg. She’s on the way home.
Then our fish said, ‘look! look!’
and our fish shook with fear.
‘Your mother is on her way home!
Do you hear?
Oh, what will she do to us?
What will she say?
Oh, she will not like it
to find us this way!’
Despite this not very good news, the rhymes keep the poem upbeat. The brother, who Seuss from for the first-person perspective, grabs his net and catches Thing One and Thing Two. They go back into the box, and the cat takes them away. He’s visibly disappointed as he leaves, and the children are left with a huge mess to clean up.
But, the story isn’t over yet. The cat comes back with his cleaning machine and picks everything up. It’s a humorous, outrageous machine that could only belong in the world of Dr. Seuss. It has multiple arms and levers and takes care of everything.
The book/poem ends with the speaker, the brother, asking the reader what “you” would tell “your mother” if she asked you what you’d done all day. This inclusion of the reader in the story at the end is a wonderful way to finish off the story. The young reader is in on the children’s secret while the parents have no idea what’s happened.
Readers who enjoyed this book/poem should also consider looking into Dr. Seuss’ other works. Some of these include ‘Green Eggs and Ham,’ ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas,’ and ‘Fox in Socks’. There are many more, most of which can be found on our list of 10 of the Best Dr. Seuss Poems. Many of these poems/books are wonderful examples of humorous children’s literature that employees nonsense language and imagery. Writers such as Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear accomplished something similar in their poems. For example, ‘The Duck and the Kangaroo’ by Edward Lear and ‘Jabberwocky’ by Lewis Carroll.