Everyone knows allegorical readings of anything written after 1500 are dull and limiting. They do the opposite of what reading is all about doing, which is to answer questions about a text with further questions, and with mental and associative play. Allegorical readings try to answer every question and they can’t help but look foolish in the attempt. As in:
The Cat in the Hat starts out with two kids in a house on a monsoon day. (The kids represent the American People.) And the kids were in the house by themselves, and they were full of boredom because of all the rain. (This represents the American People during the Ike years.) And also there is this goldfish in a fish bowl. (The goldfish represents the collective conscience of America.) And in pops this cat with a hat. The cat is very adventuresome. (Now we are moving into the 1960s–the cat is actually the American Government.) Well the cat (Government) is trying to talk the kids (the American People) into playing some games which will mess up the house. But the goldfish (conscience) is yelling, telling the kids to get the damn cat out of the house before they get in trouble. (It’s right about here that the conscience basically turns into the War Protester.) So the cat does start playing all these games and the house does get very messed up. (That’s the Viet Nam war). And the goldfish gets all beat up (just like the hippie peace lovers). And then there is this part where the cat is yelling for everyone to look at him because he can hold all these things at once–cup, milk, cake, books, rake, goldfish, toy ship, toy man, red fan–and bounce the ball at the same time. (Toy ship, toy man, red fan, get it?) But then the cat fell and everything fell all over and made a big mess. (That was the Tet Offensive of 1968.) And the goldfish said, “Do I like this? Oh, no! I do not. This is not a good game.” (See, the goldfish turns into Cronkite at this point.) The rest of the book is pretty anticlimactic and predictable: the house gets more messed up and the tricks continue, a couple of new characters are introduced–Thing One and Thing Two. (They represent the post-Viet Nam era American Presidents.) But then the goldfish starts yelling that the mother is on her way in. (Mother is actually the Kuwaitian Adventure.) So the cat cleans up the house and everything ends OK. (Everything ends okay except for the fucking kids. They get fucking PTSD.) Actually, the book was published in 1975, so you can see what a visionary Dr. Seuss was.
I sort of love this for the sheer mess of it. Very likely it’s a big joke, but enough folks here and there around the Web have held it up as some kind of exciting discovery that I feel the need to needlessly point out that it’s not. When “the collective conscience of America” becomes “hippie peace lovers” and then “Cronkite” you know you’re in shaky territory.
The thing with encoded allegorical readings (I remember hating them as early as 1995, when I read in I think a WHFS newsletter that what was held inside the glowing suitcase in Pulp Fiction was Marsellus Wallace’s soul, because of seventeen separate bits of symbolism that pointed to no other possibilities) is that even were T. Geisel to come back from the grave and knock on my door and politely decline a handshake and explain in zombie syllables that Cat. Hat. Is. WAR! I’d still tell him he’s completely wrong. That his perpetual wrongness is basically necessary for anyone to ever want to pick up a book.
This whole dumb post is maybe just a reason for me to point out that the other night I saw Don’t Look Back and am still in its/Dylan’s thrall, particularly in the whole game of the British press’s polite insistence on getting “the Dylan Story” and Dylan’s bratty refusal to give it up. “I got nothing to say about these things I write,” he says at one point. “I mean, I just write them. I got nothing to say about them. I don’t write them for any reason. There’s no great message.”
This is great advice for any writer but particularly for the nonfiction writer, for whom I think such advice is the hardest to take.