The short story "Cat in the Rain"
was written by Ernest Hemingway in the 1920´s. It is about an American couple that spends
their holidays in an Italian hotel. It is a rainy day and the American woman sees a cat in
the rain, which she wants to protect from the raindrops. When she goes out of the hotel,
which is kept by an old Italian who really seems to do everything to please that woman,
and wants to get the cat, it is gone. After returning to the hotel room, she starts a
conversation with her husband George, who is reading all the time, telling him how much
she wants to have a cat and other things, for instance her own silver to eat with. Her
husband seems to be annoyed by that and not interested at all. At the end of the story
there is a knock on the door and the maid stands there holding a cat for the American
woman in her hands.
The first thing that caught my eyes was the long description at the beginning. First there
is a description of the environment in good weather, which means spring or summer, then a
description of the momentary situation in the rain. This description creates an atmosphere
that is sad, cold and unfriendly. To create this atmosphere Hemingway uses words such as
"empty" or "the motorcars were gone". Later on, by looking at the
relationship of the two Americans, you can see that this description was a foreshadowing
of the state of the couple´s relationship: First it was nice, the spring-time of their
love, and now there is only rain, their relationship got cold and unfriendly. Another
symbolic hint in this introduction is the war monument, which is mentioned three times.
This maybe is done to tell us that a conflict is to be expected.
From girl to wife
The next thing I wondered about was the spontaneous reaction of the woman after she saw
that cat. Usually only children want to protect cats or dogs from the rain, because a
grown-up knows that rain does not do any harm to animals living on the street. From that
point on you can find an interpretation which is quite complex and not that easy to
explain: On the one hand the woman wants to protect that little cat, which now stands for
something innocent and vulnerable, like a baby. So she wants to protect that vulnerable
thing, which is more the behaviour of an adult. But on the other hand she acts like a
little child by having this wish for a cat. Another hint for that is that the woman is
referred to as "girl" in the following paragraph, not as "wife" like
The sequence in which we get to know that she likes the hotelkeeper a lot is next. She
likes the way he wants to serve her. Why? Because it gives her the feeling to be grown up,
to be treated like a lady. But the other reasons for fancying him originate from a more
childish thinking, like the fact that she likes him because of his big hands. To underline
this childish behaviour, all sentences in this part begin with "She liked..",
which is the typical way of a child to want something: "I like cats, I like
chocolate, I like bubble-gum "and so on. When she talks about the cat in this
situation, she does not say "cat" but "kitty", which is usually a
childish expression as well.
The next sentence that seems to be important to me
is:" The padrone made her feel very small and at the same time very important. She
had a momentary feeling of being of great importance." At this point we can see again
the two parts of her personality. The child in her feels very timid because of the
presence of this tall, old, serious man, the woman in her feels flattered by the way he
cares for her. She seems to be like a girl of about fourteen, still being a child and now
slowly noticing the woman inside her.
When she comes back to the hotel room, her husband is still reading. She tells him that
she does not know why she wanted that cat so much, but we know it: She feels the need for
something to care for, to be responsible for, that makes her grow up, for example having a
baby. George does not need all that anymore, because he already is grown up, which is
shown by his serious behaviour and that he treats his wife like a child. And now we
understand why why they are having problems with their marriage - because they are on
different levels: He already is a man, she is still a girl. They cannot find a mutual base
for their relationship and that makes her bored by him and him annoyed by her.
But George does not understand the problem of his wife and therefore of their
relationship, because when she talks about letting her hair grow to make her become more
female, he just tells her with disinterest that he likes it the way it is.
But her wish for longer hair is only the beginning. She
tells him that she wants her own silver to eat with and candles and that cat, standing
again for something to be responsible for and new clothes. I am sure that her new clothes
would be very female, because all these things stand for the world of a grown-ups. So she
utters, without really recognizing it herself, the immense wish to be an adult at last -
as quickly as possible. And that is why she is now referred to as "wife" again.
The sentence that she wants it to be spring again stands
for her huge wish for a new spring in her relationship, now that the process of her
growing up has started and she might attempt to find a way to be level with her husband,
which maybe will help them to finally find a mutual basis. In the end she gets a cat,
brought by the maid on request of the padrone. It is not important if it is the same cat
she saw on the street or not, the only thing that matters is that she finally gets
something to take responsibility for and that symbolizes the first step in the direction
of a grown-up life.
Altogether I would say that the theme of the story are the problems that a relationship
has, when one partner becomes dominant or repressive and the other is trying to change and
improve the situation. If they are aware of their problems they might be able to save
their marriage, but if they do not recognize that their relationship will become more and
more like the depressive weather in this short story, until there will be winter when
their love will die.