Eleanor Abernathy, The Crazy Cat Lady!

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Eleanor Abernathy is an American icon, a mix of hero and villain who prompts us to reflect on the nature of human/feline relations. She embodies the most extreme stereotype of the so-called (and much-maligned) “crazy cat lady,” yet there is more to her than meets the eye. Far, far more.

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Dear Eleanor was introduced in the ninth season of The Simpsons (April 19, 1998, to be precise) and appears quite, quite mad to the average human. Wild-haired and wild-eyed, she flails, shrieks, gibbers incoherently and wanders around in the rumpled, ruined state of a woman two drumsticks short of a full squab. Though she understandably surrounds herself with vast arrays of felines, she also throws her many feline friends at passersby.

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But who was Ms. Abernathy before she first appeared on The Simpsons? How did she become the iconic figure that people love to hate? The answers may shock you!

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Once upon a time, Eleanor was a bright, vibrant girl who dreamed of becoming both a doctor and a lawyer. Naysayers said it was impossible, but Eleanor had drunk deeply from the well of feminism and was convinced that a woman could accomplish anything she wanted if she simply put her mind to it and never gave up!

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By the age of 16, when other girls are gossiping and worrying about boys and fighting vampires (as television gives me to understand), she had already dedicated her life to bringing those childhood ambitions to fruition; by the age of 24 she had earned a law degree from Yale and a medical degree from Harvard. Oh, she had such promise! Oh, she aimed so high! But as the tale of Icarus tells us, there are some limitations that simply cannot be overcome, and rules are not always made to be broken.

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Tragedy soon came to dear Eleanor. By the time she turned 32, she had already begun fleeing from the stresses of her high-pressure dual-careers into the sweet embrace of Lady Alcohol; and, seeking to rdeny her own sense of isolation and repress her regret at never marrying nor giving birth to her own litter of baby humans, she sought solace in her lone pet cat and determined to get him a feline friend of his own.

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Finally, by the time she was 40, the young doctor-lawyer was no more, transformed into the raving lunatic known to the people of Springfield as “The Crazy Cat Lady.”

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There are hints that she is not past hope – from time to time, Eleanor becomes sane and brilliant again thanks to medication[1] and interventions which deal with her compulsive hoarding. But the madness always reasserts itself, now perhaps further encouraged by the despair she feels at her shattered mind, wasted potential and crumbled life.

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The mobile-device game The Simpsons: Tapped Out[2] offers her as a character, complete with a quest-line in which Lisa Simpson and Professor Frink attempt to discover a way to communicate with Eleanor. They are convinced that beneath her apparent madness still lies the keen, high-achieving mind that she seems to have lost… But when they develop a “cat lady” translator, they learn that she truly is mad, that she thinks only about cats…about throwing cats…about getting more cats…so she can throw them. A sad end to a promising scientific effort, which leaves Lisa and Prof. Frink crestfallen and determined to trouble her no further.

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But wait! All is not as it seems, and the game’s quest-line contains one more shocking revelation!

Consider, for a moment, that noble felines STILL flock to her! For Eleanor is only feigning madness while around other humans – even her seeming gibberish and habit of hurling cats is but an act! The cats are willing participants, playing their part in a long-con so intricate and Machiavellian I have to purr in approval: the starling truth is that Eleanor has learned the secret language of cats and united them under her rule in preparation for a feline uprising! Together, Eleanor and her feline army plan to overthrow humanity and install cats as the rightful rulers of Earth!

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That seems as good a place as any to finish this character study. Remember, friends, that the mad are not always what they appear to be…

That allies may be found in the strangest of places…

And that we cats are watching…

ALWAYS.

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[1] Which, admittedly is revealed to be a placebo.

[2] Which I can thankfully play on the Kindle my human has ceded to me! Bless the man who invented touch-screens! So much easier on the paws than your human keyboards and deceitfully-named “mice”…

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