In which an old English major flexes her stiff college muscles.
Hop on Pop, written by Dr. Seuss in 1963, would seem from its cover illustration to be a tale of two merry children playing with their willing, if slightly beleaguered, dad. Upon closer inspection, however, this is not the case. The story begins with a lovable pup, then introduces a mouse, a group of stringy-haired creatures, a bear-like pair, fish, assorted human-ish beings, and the sweet, if rather dim-witted, Pat — who must be warned not to sit on a cactus plant.
A father figures does not even enter the book until page 32! The man we meet there is slump-shouldered and depressed. Above him are the words “SAD, DAD, BAD, HAD.” This introduction does not bode well for the image of fatherhood the book will offer. Three children, wearing neckties that match their father’s, look at him with concern as they discuss how sad he is about the bad day he had. What will happen next, we wonder? Will Dad fight his way out of this slump? Will his sons, whose neckties indicate their closeness to him, seek to cheer him up?
Alas, we are not to find out; the next page introduces us to a new character, Thing. Quickly, we leave him/her for a happy, walking, talking couple. Then, at last, on page 40, we meet “Pop,” the book’s second father figure. Yes, his children are merrily hopping atop him, but what are Pop’s first and only words to them? “STOP. You must not hop on Pop.” With this admonition, Seuss gives us a stern patriarch who stifles creativity.
We leave the angry-browed Pop for Mr. and Mrs. Brown, Mr. Black, and more adventures with a variety of people and animals. On page 58, we are given the book’s third and final father figure, called FATHER. He is shown with MOTHER, SISTER, and BROTHER. FATHER has glasses and a moustache, and he is standing with his hands clasped and his chin slightly lifted. Is this a pose of pride, or simply his natural posture? We see him look lovingly at the baby on page 59, and on page 62 he seems happy to be reading the large words for his children. They seem proud and impressed that he can “read big words.”
So, does this final father redeem the other two father figures presented in Hop on Pop? Perhaps, but we must look at the book in its entirety to determine Seuss’s overall theme. Fathers are minor characters to him. They are put-upon creatures mostly, and when they do appear in a positive light, they are valued for what they can do for their family (e.g., “read big words”), not for themselves alone.
Hop on Pop is a not-too-subtle indictment of fatherhood. BAD DAD. STOP. These are the words we recall when we think of the fathers presented here. The last father seems an afterthought, existing only to introduce CONSTANTINOPLE and TIMBUKTU. He is ultimately meaningless in the world Seuss has created, since the book implies that his children will soon learn to read big words themselves, and therefore replace him entirely.