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Marital Distance in Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain”

Ernest Hemingway is a writer known for his sparse language and subtle portrayal of his characters’ complex problems. In the short story “Cat in the Rain,” Hemingway demonstrates his technique of simplicity and subtlety as he explores the characters of an American couple during a rainy, Italian holiday. “Cat in the Rain” tells the story of a dysfunctional couple who suffers from the lack of intimacy. True to Hemingway’s style, the plot of the story is fairly simple. It opens with a detailed description of the hotel where in the American couple is staying. It is raining and the couple is stuck inside the room.

As the lady stares outside, she sees a cat under the table, coiled to protect itself against the rain. The lady then says that she wants to get the cat and tells her husband that she will go out to fetch it. The husband promptly offers his help but does not stop the woman from leaving the room. The lady passes through the hotel’s hallway where she is greeted by an old man, a respectable and warm fellow she has grown fond of in their short stay in the hotel. Once outside, the lady finds out that the cat in the rain is gone. The lady disappointedly returns to her room.

She vents frustration on her husband who does not seem to care at what his wife is saying. The story ends with the interruption of the hotel maid who delivers the cat to the lady. The dysfunctional relationship of the couple is revealed subtly through the description of the setting and the dialogue that ensues between the couple. Hemingway devotes a detailed description of the place to set the mood of the story which relates to the inner life of the couple. Both the image of the rain and the war monument evoke the sense of cold animosity that characterizes the relationship of the two characters.

Rain also creates a heavy mood, foreshadowing what is about to happen in the story. The lack of intimacy is revealed in the way the two couple converse. As the lady expresses her desire to fetch the cat, the husband promptly offers help, but this is really just a token response to his wife because he does not move an inch from lying on his bed with his feet propped on a pillow. When the lady returns, he feigns interest in the woman’s tirade. On the other hand, the woman refuses to hear her husband’s complements about her and continues to express her disappointment about trivial things.

The woman’s actions, though not directly relating to their problematic relationship, also reveal her neglectful husband’s attitude of distance which the woman feels strongly about. The woman does not confront her husband nor does she say anything directly about it. But her actions reveal a deep longing for intimacy. As she stares at the cat in the rain, the woman feels that she is in the same situation, out in the cold presence of her husband who treats her more as a property than a wife. The woman grows fond of the old hotel manager because he makes her feel important unlike her husband who only feigns concern for her.

She tells him that she wants to grow her long because she is tired of looking like a boy. The comparison is very telling, since a boy—somebody belittled and subservient—is far from who she wants to be, a lady treated with “supreme importance” (Hemingway 1). She rambles at the end of the story about capricious desires which make her very childish desperately seeking attention. We sense towards the closing of the story that the woman will finally reveal what she thinks about their stale relationship.

But Hemingway merely suggests this through the hints that he put in the story. Masterfully employing details and dialogue, Hemingway is able dramatize the inner lives of his characters without directly referring to them. He subtly portray in “Cat in the Rain” a relationship plagued by lack of intimacy and on the verge of meltdown.

Work Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. “Cat in the Rain. ” 14-19 Learning. 2000. Qualification and Curriculum Authority. 16 February 2009 <http://www. qca. org. uk/14-19/6th-form- schools/downloads/cat_in_the_rain. pdf>.

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