Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sign of the Times

"The Cat in the Hat Comes Back," written in 1958 as a sequel to the classic, "The Cat in the Hat," ostensibly teaches the alphabet, and the lesson that as long as you clean up your mess before your parents come home, it all works out.

Every week we take a book out of our local library for new reading on Shabbat, and "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back" won this weeks lottery.  I didn't remember it all that well from my own childhood, and was surprised to find that I had a few unexpected objections to the text.

For starters, in both this book and the original, Sally and her brother are left home alone by their parents, and they don't seem old enough;  I wonder why the mother and father would not consider hiring a baby sitter.

Secondly, when the Cat in the Hat cleans the mess he has caused, at a certain point he transfers it to "Dad's bedroom."  Is this a reflection of married life in the 50's, where parents slept in separate rooms? Or is it the male-centered society of the last several centuries defining the parents' private space as controlled by the Man of the House?  (Historical or other explanations welcome.)

But most seriously disturbing was the language used toward the end of the book, when the Cat in the Hat must call upon his A-B-C minions to clean up the pink snow.  (From the cake he was eating in the bathtub, don't ask...More preferable in any case to yellow snow.)

And I quote,
 My cats are all clever.
My cats are good shots.
My cats have good guns. [pop-guns]
They will kill all those spots...

"Come on! Kill those spots!
Kill the mess!" yelled the cats.
And they jumped at the snow
With long rakes and red bats.

Perhaps Dr. Seuss was attempting some anti-war statement, but in today's era of shootings at schools, a rise in violence overall,  and the American debate about gun control laws, I would hardly consider this language appropriate for children Raphaela's age.  So I found myself changing the text, using the word "fix" instead of "kill," and toning down the number of times the word "bad" is used throughout the book.

My generation of parents, we are raising our children in a post 9/11 environment, in the era where PC language rules.  Beyond that, I am raising Raphaela in a country where war and terrorism come into the house along with breakfast cereal;  she certainly does not have to learn the word "kill" any earlier than is necessary.


Midlife Singlemum said...

I never thought of the violent language aspect when we found the book at my mum's at pesah - my own childhood copy. I did notice the Dad's bedroom though (was it Mom's bedroom in the first book?) and wondered why they had separate rooms. Mybe they were posh - lots of uber-rich do have separate bedrooms apparently.

David Staum said...