Saturday, August 06, 2005

Cat in the Hat: a Reluctant Reader's guide

Carissa of Happy Stuff asked me "Will you grace us with any of the treasures that your parents saved?"

Now, how can I refuse a request like that? Instead of torturing you with poems about the last unicorn,* followed by poems about my loss of innocence** (inspired by the cryptic verses of Simon Le Bon), followed by poems about how cross I was with my first boyfriend,*** I shall offer you my favorite project from my high school senior year creative writing class: The CliffsNotes version of Dr. Seuss's classic text, The Cat in the Hat.

Major Characters

Theodore Geisel—The narrator of the story. He is protective of his sister, but rather confused at the tender age of four. He wants to be good, but feels powerless in the face of evil.

Sally Geisel—Theodore’s younger sister. Sally is only two years old. She embodies the virtue Innocence. Sally shows complete trust in Theodore, even when he cannot avoid catastrophe. Sally does not talk, and she trusts that Theodore will voice her concerns and fears.

Fish—His true name is Simon, but is only addressed as “Fish” throughout the story. He is silent and content in his bowl of water until the Cat in the Hat appears. He then becomes gifted with speech. Simon is also able to poke his head out of the water and shake a fin at the Cat in the Hat in lieu of a forefinger.

The Cat in the Hat—The anti-hero of the story. He invokes mayhem and terror, but really means well. He surprises everyone in the end by taking responsibility for his actions.

Mother—Little is known about her, and the fact that her face is never shown only adds to the enigma. She is away for most of the story, having left Theodore and Sally to take care of themselves. While a number of critics believe she is a negligent parent, others believe she is simply trying to teach her children responsibility. The children have no father, since he left Mother when Sally was born. Nothing is known about the father except that he may have been a convict.

Thing One—a friend of the Cat in the Hat’s trouble-making friends.

Thing Two—Thing One’s twin brother. He is also one of the Cat in the Hat’s troublemaking friends.

Synopsis of Story

Section I: It is a cold, wet, rainy day. Theodore and Sally are left home alone by Mother. Since there is too much precipitation to play outside, the children sit by the window in complete ennui.

Section II: Theodore and Sally hear a “bump” at the door, and the Cat in the Hat strolls in. He promises a plethora of amusements for the children, and proceeds to balance objects on various parts of his body while standing on a ball. They are: the Fish in his bowl, two books, a cup, a teapot, a cake, a toy ship, a toy man, milk in a dish, a rake, and a red fan. The Cat in the Hat loses his balance, much to the chagrin of Theodore, Sally and the Fish. He falls, and the Fish lands in the teapot. The Fish tells the Cat in the Hat to go away. Theodore and Sally feel helpless.

Section III: The Cat in the Hat refuses to leave, and brings in an enormous red box using his Herculean strength. He opens the box, and Thing One and Thing Two pop out. Thing One and Thing Two start flying kites in the house. They also string up Mother’s red and white polka-dotted dress along the kite cords. Theodore and Sally are disconcerted.

Section IV: The Fish sees Mother coming home, which dismays the children. They finally exert control over the situation and with nets catch Thing One and Thing Two. Theodore and Sally order the Cat in the Hat to take them [Thing One and Thing Two] away. Dejectedly, the Cat in the Hat complies. Unfortunately, Theodore and Sally must now clean up the house, which is in shambles.

Section V: The Cat in the Hat returns with a magic machine to clean up the house. He assures Theodore, Sally and the Fish that he always cleans up after he plays. This is the author’s lesson to children. The Cat in the Hat finally exits, tipping his hat as he goes out the door. Mother returns soon after, and asks what the children did while she was out. The children do not know what to say.

Possible Essay Questions

1) Describe the symbolism of the characters using Freud’s psychology.
2) Contrast the morals of the Fish (Simon) and the Cat in the Hat.
3)Discuss the symbolism of the two books the Cat in the Hat balances (Divine Comedy and Aeneid.)
4) Compare the character of Theodore with that of Hamlet.
5)"Have no fear… I will not let you fall." Discuss the meaning of this quote and how it pertains to the book as a whole.

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*As if there's any other kind but the "last" unicorn.
**Rough translation: "My parents don't understand how hard it is to be thirteen years old."
***Eighteen years later, we're actually friends again. I'm not cross anymore.

3 comments:

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

I told Philip the Pun that my mom thought my blog was the best blog she had ever read. Phil replied, "(a)That's because she's your mother and (b) your blog is the only blog she's ever read!" Technically, the latter part of the comment is not true, but the intent was not lost upon me. (I am leaving out the part where I start harranguing Phil for being mean.)

abcgirl said...

hurrah! what fun! thanks for sharing. the seeds of a children's librarian were apparent early in you. i once plagiarised green eggs and ham in a spoof born of frustration in a relationship i was having. i may have to dig that one up. it was more along the lines of rewriting key words, scanning the illustrations into the computer and messing around with them to suit my needs. your "cliff notes" just really prove how difficult it is to write a simple story with simple words. i have the greatest respect for (successful) beginning reader authors. my current favorite (of newer writers, not including ones that have been established for awhile) is david milgrim's books about otto.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Thanks, abcgirl! I'd like to see your sendup of "Green Eggs and Ham." No kidding about the good beginning reading authors. You probably get these kinds of patrons too: the kinds that come up to the desk wanting information on how to write and publish children's books, ending with, "It can't be that hard, right?"

Aieeeeeee!