I Want My Hat Back
By Jon Klaassen; Books, Inc.
A bear has lost its hat and wants it back. It wanders around and asks all the animals it encounters whether they’ve seen it. A fox and the frog haven’t seen the hat. A rabbit, who is wearing a pointy red hat, also denies of having seen it but has a much more lengthy explanation: “No. Why are you asking me. I haven't' seen it. I haven't seen any hats anywhere. I would not steal a hat. Don't ask me any more questions” A tortoise hasn’t seen it. A snake once saw a blue and round hat. An armadillo doesn’t even know what a hat is. The bear thanks them each anyway politely. It lies down depressed. Then a deer comes and asks what the hat looks like. As soon as the bear starts describing the hat it remembers where it has seen the hat. It jumps up and runs back until it meets the thief and recovers the hat. Then a squirrel comes and asks whether the bear has seen a rabbit wearing a hat, the bear answers with a familiar expression: “No, Why are you asking me. I haven't seen him. I haven't seen any rabbits anywhere. I would not eat a rabbit. Don’t ask me any more questions."
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Meredith Marshall and Yuwei Zheng
This book lends itself to discussion with its ambiguous nature. While the common reading of the text is that the Rabbit has stolen the Bear’s hat, and the Bear has eaten the Rabbit to take its hat back, none of these are stated outright. They are mentioned only in statements of denial, from which we may infer that they actually happen. Because these characters feel the need to deny actions even though no one has accused them of, they paint themselves suspiciously. The ambiguity this creates frames hypothetical discussion nicely. We can easily ask questions like, ‘what if the Rabbit did not steal the hat?’ and discuss what might change if this were the case. If the hat simply fell and the Rabbit found it, did the Rabbit do anything wrong by taking the hat? On the other hand, assuming the Rabbit stole the Bear’s hat, was it okay for the Rabbit to steal it? it should be noted that there is only ambiguity in the hat and the disappearance of the Rabbit. We know that the Rabbit lied about not having seen the hat because it was wearing the hat when talking to the Bear. We also know that the Bear lied about not having seen the Rabbit, because they spoke to each other.
Most of the discussion for this story will stem from questioning of the morality of certain actions, which are lying, stealing, and killing.Was it okay for each of them to lie? By asking this we can establish with the students the set of morality we will continue with: lying, stealing, and killing are wrong. Furthermore, we can discuss if there are any differences between the Bear’s denial and the Rabbit’s. The structures of their lies are very similar, is all that differs the subject of the lie? If so, is the difference in their choice to lie, or what they chose to lie about?
After the Bear realizes it has seen its hat,it runs back to the Rabbit saying “YOU STOLE MY HAT!” This introduces a new conflict, the recovery of the hat. The book does not narrate how this happens, and not until the Bear encounters the squirrel do we get an idea. When the squirrel asks if the bear has seen a rabbit in a red hat, it replies that it has not, and would never eat a rabbit. Beyond what we know to be a lie, that the Bear has not seen the Rabbit, we now have a possible answer to how the Bear recovered his hat. The Bear ate the Rabbit. Why else would it bring up the topic of eating rabbits? The squirrel did not ask if it had eaten rabbits, just as earlier on the Bear had not asked the Rabbit if it had stolen the hat. Nevertheless, both the Rabbit and the Bear attest to not having done these things, which as we have discussed is highly suspicious.
Both animals deny doing anything wrong, but the actions they deny differ. The Rabbit, if it did steal, did not do so in response to anything, while the Bear, if it did eat the Rabbit, did so in retaliation for the theft of the hat. In this way the killing of the Rabbit can be viewed as punishment. But is it just, or even proper punishment? This is what we will talk about with the students. This sort of discussion will cover ideas of reciprocity, such as what sorts of punishments fit different kinds of crimes and will introduce the students to the idea of how a punishment can be just, and we will ask them to explain what makes something just. Later in the discussion this will be brought up again in the form of reciprocity, whether or not justness comes from a punishment being equally bad as the crime. By questioning alternatives the Bear could have taken we bring into question the necessity of punishment. Perhaps death was not a good punishment for theft, perhaps a less violent form of retribution could have been enacted.
From here we can take the two actions of the Rabbit and the Bear and compare them asking if their actions are equally bad, and then if thievery or murder is worst. The class may be divided on this, which is helpful, because it allows us to explore how their punishments should differ. Since we’ve established murder as wrong, we can conclude he ought to be punished. After establishing if the Bear’s action is worse than the Rabbit’s we can ask how his punishment should differ, or if it should? Perhaps we believe that the Rabbit does not deserve to die over theft, as death and lost property are not equally harmful, but we do think that a punishment for killing someone could be death. In this way the Bear deserves the same punishment that the Rabbit received, even though in the Rabbit’s case, such a punishment was unjust.
This section can also touch on revenge, asking if it is different from punishment. This can introduce the idea of intentions coloring the morality of actions. Does murder differ from capital punishment? And what about how the intention of a crime affects how it is punished? If, for instance, the Rabbit only found the hat and was not aware that taking it would be thievery, does the need to punish the Rabbit change? This will also bring into play the idea of “two wrongs make a right.” Perhaps what makes the killing of the Rabbit unjust is not that it is too severe for the crime the Rabbit committed, but that it did not knowingly commit a crime.
To finish off this topic we can ask if the idea of a punishment being just, which we started with, is dependent on the equality of the punishment and the crime. Is this a proper definition? Working with such a definition, can killing ever be a just punishment, especially if it is, as often viewed, the worst action one can do. Because if it is the worst of the worst, what could it justly punish other than itself?
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
By Meredith Marshall and Yuwei Zheng
The Bear asks the rabbit whether it has seen its hat. The Rabbit answers, “No. Why are you asking me. I haven't' seen it. I haven't seen any hats anywhere. I would not steal a hat. Don't ask me any more questions.”
Both the Rabbit and the Bear lie in this story.
A squirrel comes and asks whether the Bear has seen a rabbit. The Bear answers, “No, Why are you asking me. I haven't seen him. I haven't seen any rabbits anywhere. I would not eat a rabbit. Don’t ask me any more questions."