Cat in the Rain
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"Cat in the Rain" is a short story by American author Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), which was first published in 1925 as a part of the short story collection In Our Time. The story is about an American man and wife on vacation in Italy.
In the biography Hemingway's Cats, the author writes: “["Cat in the Rain"] was a tribute to Hadley, who was dealing with the first year of marriage, the loneliness it entailed, and her deep desire for motherhood. According to biographer Gioia Diliberto…Hemingway based the story on an incident that happened in Rapallo in 1923. Hadley was two months pregnant when she found a kitten that had been hiding under a table in the rain. ‘I want a cat,’ she [told Hemingway], ‘I want a cat. I want a cat now. If I can’t have hair or any fun I can have a cat.”
"Cat in the Rain" was first published in New York in 1925, as a part of the short story collection In Our Time. In Our Time, which derives its title from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer ("Give us peace in our time, O Lord"), was Hemingway’s first published work. It contains notable short stories such as “The End of Something”, “Soldier's Home”, and "Big Two-Hearted River”.
When it was published, In Our Time received acclaim from many notable authors of the period, including "Ford Madox Ford, John Dos Passos, and F. Scott Fitzgerald" who praised "its simple and precise use of language to convey a wide range of complex emotions, and it earned Hemingway a place beside Sherwood Anderson and Gertrude Stein among the most promising American writers of that period." In a New York Times book review from October 1925, titled Preludes to a Mood, the reviewer praised Hemingway for his use of language, which he described as "fibrous and athletic, colloquial and fresh, hard and clean; his very prose seems to have an organic being of its own. Every syllable counts toward a stimulating, entrancing experience of magic." Author D.H. Lawrence, who is notable for his novel Lady Chatterley's Lover, also reviewed In Our Time. Lawrence wrote that In Our Time was "a series of successive sketches from a man's life...a fragmentary novel...It is a short book: and it does not pretend to be about one man. But it is. It is as much as we need know of the man's life. The sketches are short, sharp, vivid, and most of them excellent." Another reviewer commented that Hemingway's writing illustrated that the author had "felt the genius of Gertrude Stein's [his longtime mentor and friend] Three Lives and had obviously been influenced by it."
“Cat in the Rain” recounts the story of an American couple on vacation in Italy. The entirety of the story’s action takes place in or around the couple’s hotel, which faces the sea as well as the "public garden and the war monument". Throughout the story it rains, leaving the couple trapped within their hotel room. As the American wife watches the rain, she sees a cat crouched “under one of the dripping green tables.” Feeling sorry for the cat that “was trying to make herself so compact she would not be dripped on,” the American wife decides to rescue "that kitty.”
On her way downstairs, the American wife encounters the innkeeper, with whom she has a short conversation. In this encounter, Hemingway specifically emphasizes how the wife "likes" the innkeeper, a word that is repeated often throughout the stories of In Our Time: "The wife liked him. She liked the deadly serious way he received any complaints. She liked his dignity. She liked the way he wanted to serve her. She liked the way he felt about being a hotel-keeper. She liked his old, heavy face and big hands".
When the American wife finally arrives outside that cat is gone, and, slightly crestfallen, she returns to the room alone. The American wife then has a (rather one-sided) conversation with her husband about the things she wants with her life, particularly how she wants to settle down (as opposed to the transient vacation life the couple has in the story): “I want to eat at a table with my own silver and I want candles. And I want it to be spring and I want to brush my hair out in front of a mirror and I want a kitty and I want some new clothes.” However, her husband, George, continues to read his books, acting dismissively of what his wife “wants.” The story ends when the maid arrives with a “big tortoise-shell cat pressed tight against her and swung down against her body,” which she gives to the American wife. This ending is both abrupt and ambiguous, and “hinges on the mystery of the tortoise-shell cat's identity. We do not know whether it is the "kitty" the wife spotted outside and so do not know whether she will be pleased to get it."
A New York Times book reviewer comments on the plot of the very short story, writing “that is absolutely all there is, yet a lifetime of discontent, of looking outside for some unknown fulfillment is compressed into the offhand recital.”
The American Wife
The “American wife” is the protagonist of the story. Despite being the main character, the "American wife" remains unnamed during the course of the story. Throughout the story, the American wife becomes increasingly childlike. While at the beginning of the story, she is referred to as the “American wife,” she becomes the “girl” as the story progresses: “As the American girl passed the office…Something felt very small and tight inside the girl”. The wife’s immaturity is also shown in the dialogue of the story. Several times she refers to the "kitty" ("I'm going down and get that kitty"/ "I want to have a kitty to sit on my lap") instead of the more mature "cat" that would be expected from a grown woman.
Another important aspect of the American wife is her loneliness. Her husband treats her dismissively, although she desperately desires to be loved. She desires a stable home life, instead of a life of travel, where she can enjoy the basic luxuries of a husband and potential family, as well as a “kitty to sit on [her] lap” and “a table with [her] own silver and…candles.” Some scholars have even suggested that the American wife is pregnant in the story, and if she is not, scholars have argued that she at least desires to be pregnant.
George (the Husband)
Throughout the story, George, the protagonist’s husband, is painfully unaware of his wife’s needs. Although at the beginning of the story he offers to retrieve the cat, “‘I’ll do it,’ her husband offered from the bed,” through the remainder of the story he acts contemptuously towards his wife. When the American wife tells George what she wishes for her life, he responds in an irritated way, telling her to go "'shut up and get something to read.'" George’s actions in the story are contrasted to those of the innkeeper, who sends a cat to the American wife at the end of the story when she cannot find the “cat in the rain.” The American wife even comments that, “She like[s] the way [the innkeeper] wanted to serve her.”
Both the American wife and George display tremendous selfishness throughout the course of the story. George continues to read and ignore his wife, while the American wife complains about all the things she does not have and wishes she did. The selfishness of these two characters is contrasted to the “Italians came from a long way off to look up at the war monument.” While the two Americans can only think about themselves, the Italians, who have experienced the war, have a better perspective and understanding of life, illustrated through their trips to see the monument for those who have died.
The "Iceberg Theory"
Hemingway biographer Carlos Baker writes that Hemingway learned from his short stories how to "get the most from the least, how to prune language, how to multiply intensities, and how to tell nothing but the truth in a way that allowed for telling more than the truth". The style has become known as the iceberg theory, (or sometimes the "theory of omission,") because in Hemingway's writing the hard facts float above water while the supporting structure operates out of sight. Hemingway himself is responsible for the naming of this theory, writing in his non-fiction work Death in the Afternoon: "If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water." As evidenced from this quote, Hemingway believed the writer could describe one thing though an entirely different thing occurs below the surface.
Hemingway learned how to achieve this stripped-down style from his friend Ezra Pound, who, according to Hemingway, "had taught him more 'about how to write and how not to write' than any son of a bitch alive". Similarly, Hemingway was influenced by his friend and fellow author James Joyce who taught him "to pare down his work to the essentials". A third important influence on Hemingway was American author Gertrude Stein, who Hemingway met during his time in Paris during the 1920s.
The Iceberg Theory in Cat in the Rain
This "Iceberg theory" is evident in Hemingway’s short story "The Cat in the Rain": "Though Hemingway learned as a professional reporter how to report facts as they were, he felt that there was a limit to representing reality. This is what he conveys through Cat in the Rain." The idea that there is "something below the surface" to this story is particularly evident in relation to the cat. The cat is not just a cat. Instead, as Professor of English Shigeo Kikuchi writes, the animal’s nature is shrouded in mystery: "The moderately distant location of the room and the two words suggestive of the cat’s size, have the effect of concealing from the reader the cat’s true size and sort [which makes] it impossible to identify the “cat in the rain.” But what does the cat represent? One explanation that scholars have offered is that the cat is a physical manifestation of the wife’s desire for a child: “The cat stands for her need of a child.”
Other examples of things being more than they appear abound throughout the story. In one line, Hemingway mentions: “A man in a rubber cape…crossing the empty square to the café.” Although this character at first might seem innocuous, it was not Hemingway’s style to add meaningless interludes to his stories. Therefore some scholars have taken this character to represent a “rubber condom” which the use of “prevents her from becoming pregnant, which was her main dream.”
Correction: The man in the raincoat was a symbol of double isolation protected from the rain by the coat and socially isolated by the empty square ... in heading for the cafe and social contact he resonated with her desire for a newly involved life through pregnancy and a baby.
In the Media
"Cat in the Rain": The Movie
Hemingway's story "Cat in the Rain" has inspired a short (9 minute) film by Directors Matthew Gentile and Ben Hanks. Made in 2011, the movie stars actors Brian Caspe, Veronika Bellová and Curtis Matthew.
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- Hemingway, Ernest (1932). Death in the Afternoon. New York: Scribner. p. 192.
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