Reading The Cat in the Hat Through an Innate Justice Lens

Amanda Fisher-Katz-Keohane
9 min readOct 4, 2023
Photo: Sam Sloan — Attribution 2.0 Generic

Theodor Seuss Geisel, most commonly referred to by his nom de plume Dr. Suess, wrote the Cat in the Hat because William Spaulding, the director of Houghton Mifflin’s education division, wanted a more engaging story for early readers (Nel, 2017). What was born out of this assignment was one of the most well-known picture books in American history.

Over the next seven decades, the book–along with many other Dr. Seuss books and cartoons from before his entry into the world of children’s literature–received mixed reviews for its racist caricatures. The titular cat, itself, was believed to be inspired by minstrel caricatures (Lynch, 2017; Nel, 2017). While the Cat at hand is a more abstract expression of this harmful stereotype, there are other examples in Seuss’ works that are not as easily overlooked.

Sophie Gilbert wrote in the Atlantic:

It’s more than a little baffling now to see Geisel, who’d railed repeatedly against racism, Jim Crow, and anti-Semitism in his cartoons, proffer up such bigoted depictions of Asians both in the U.S. and overseas.

Indeed, it is strange, although not totally inexplicable. “[Richard H.] Minear also points out that such sentiment was common in the New York circles Geisel moved in at the time” (Gilbert). Does this excuse Seuss’ racist artwork…