Cat in the Rain by Ernest Hemingway
In Cat in the Rain by Ernest Hemingway we have the theme of discontent, struggle, selfishness, helplessness, loneliness, conflict and insecurity. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and one of the most interesting things about the story is how Hemingway shifts from calling the wife, the American wife to then calling her the girl. This shift from American wife to girl serves to highlight the insecurity that the American wife feels. Possibly driven by her desire to live a normal life rather than living out of a hotel. If anything throughout the story the American wife remains discontent or unhappy with her life. Something that is noticeable by her wanting so many changes in her life. It is also noticeable that she calls the cat a kitty for a large portion of the story. Some readers would find this unusual. For a woman to use a word for an animal that is more associated with a child using it. Which would further suggest a child-like quality within the American wife.
The American wife’s relationship with George is also interesting and may be going nowhere or may actually lack any type of change. Something that is symbolically noticeable by the lack of movement made by George throughout the story. He remains in the same place, lying on the bed. George also doesn’t appear to take his wife’s needs or wants seriously. Something that is noticeable when he tells her to ‘shut up and get something to read.’ This line may be important as it suggests that the wife is being controlled by George or at least he views his wife’s wishes or desires to be impractical, unrealistic or unimportant. It may also be possible that George is being selfish and not giving his wife any consideration at all. It may also be important that Hemingway mentions the square outside the hotel as being empty. In many ways this emptiness mirrors how the American wife feels. Also the fact that it is raining adds a further sense of isolation or loneliness to the story. Again mirroring how the American wife feels. The fact that Hemingway doesn’t introduce any other visitors to the hotel also serves to further heighten or highlight the sense of loneliness that the American wife feels. Though there are other guests in the hotel neither the American wife nor George know any of them which would also suggest an isolation from others.
The title of the story may also be symbolic. In many ways the cat that the American wife sees underneath the table in the rain mirrors the American wife herself. She too feels helpless throughout the story. She too is as vulnerable as the cat in the rain reliant on her husband to provide for her. If anything she is as trapped as the cat. Something that is noticeable when she goes back to her hotel room and lists some things that she would like – eat at a table with her own silver – wanting candles – wanting a cat. All these things are very normal for most people. However because the American wife appears to be living out of hotel rooms she is unable to obtain any of these things. If anything she may be as alone as the cat underneath the table. The fact that we never learn the American wife’s name, yet we know her husband’s name may also be important as by calling her either a wife or a girl Hemingway manages to take away her identity. Just as the reader never knows her name likewise the American wife never really knows who she is till later in the story when she lists the things she would like. Which in many ways goes to define or identify her.
It may also be important that Hemingway on three separate occasions mentions the war monument in the square. By doing so he may be using the monument to not only highlight the conflict that existed in WWI but also the internal conflict that exists for the American wife. It is also interesting that after the American wife lists all the things she would like, Hemingway reverts back to calling her the wife. This shift may be important as it suggests that the American wife knows who she is and also knows what she wants. No longer is she as insecure or helpless as she had previously been in the story. It is also noticeable that she begins to use the word cat again rather than kitty. Which would further suggest a return to maturity (or security) for the American wife. She is precise about what she is looking for even if George doesn’t think her needs are important.
The end of the story is also interesting as Hemingway changes the setting in the story while the wife is looking out the window ‘the light had come on in the square.’ No longer is the American wife symbolically in the dark. Again she is more secure in herself despite George having told her to shut up. What is also interesting is that Hemingway by introducing another cat into the story allows for the American wife to be happy or to move forward. She now has one of the things that she has been looking for which may suggest she is moving forward. Unlike George who throughout the story has remained lying on the bed. In many ways his life has not changed but his wife’s life may be about to change.