"Cat in the Rain," Part Three
Now that we've got our influences all sorted out...
Back to work on “Cat in the Rain,” written by this guy, when he was (ugh) 26. That’s when the book the story is in (In Our Time) was published - so he more likely wrote it when he was (even louder ugh) 23 or so.
And I believe he might have been living here at the time (although, any Hemingway scholars out there, free free to chime in):
Here’s what much we’ve covered so far….
There were only two Americans stopping at the hotel. They did not know any of the people they passed on the stairs on their way to and from their room. Their room was on the second floor facing the sea. It also faced the public garden and the war monument. There were big palms and green benches in the public garden. In the good weather there was always an artist with his easel. Artists liked the way the palms grew and the bright colors of the hotels facing the gardens and the sea. Italians came from a long way off to look up at the war monument. It was made of bronze and glistened in the rain. It was raining. The rain dripped from the palm trees. Water stood in pools on the gravel paths. The sea broke in a long line in the rain and slipped back down the beach to come up and break again in a long line in the rain. The motor cars were gone from the square by the war monument. Across the square in the doorway of the cafe a waiter stood looking out at the empty square.
The American wife stood at the window looking out. Outside right under their window a cat was crouched under one of the dripping green tables. The cat was trying to make herself so compact that she would not be dripped on.
Last post I ended with these questions for you to think over:
What do you think is going to happen next? What do you hope will happen? What are you curious about? (What bowling pins are up in the air for you?)
And you answered wonderfully, in the comments.
Let’s just note that there are no wrong answers. What arose in you, arose in you. And you’ll enjoy the rest of the story to the extent that Hemingway somehow honors whatever arose in you. (This is not to say that all readings are equal; we can always become better, more accurate readers.)
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Here’s the next little pulse.
“I’m going down and get that kitty,” the American wife said.
“I’ll do it,” her husband offered from the bed.
“No, I’ll get it. The poor kitty out trying to keep dry under a table.”
The husband went on reading, lying propped up with the two pillows at the foot of the bed.
“Don’t get wet,” he said.
Ah ha! She’s not alone. She has a husband, back there on the bed, reading. As we’d hoped, she reacts to the presence of the cat: she’s going to go get it. And then the story expands again by telling us which husband he is. He is he kind of husband who offers to help, then goes on reading. We find out who she is, by her resolve to act. We find out who he is, by the way he fake-offers to help. (It’s instantly a different couple, and a different story, if he leaps off the bed and casts his book aside and heroically rushes down to get that cat.) He’s not a bad guy, necessarily, and it’s not a bad marriage – but it’s that marriage, one that’s no longer in the honeymoon stage, let’s say.
We might also note that, to the wife, it’s a “kitty,” not a “cat.” See how (slightly) we know her a little better by her use of that word, and maybe even have started judging her? (I always hear her saying it in baby-talk.) She immediately feels that she needs to intervene on the cat’s behalf. We note this, and wonder: is it because she’s a good person, super-mindful, very kind? Or is she bored and over-involved?
We wait to find out.
And this is how narrative tension gets made.
So, now she has a mission – she’s about to set out on a heroic, cat-retrieving
(As some of you have noted, a cat in the rain is not necessarily in need of help. But she, this particular woman, thinks this one is.)
Note how small these motions are, and yet, now that we’ve noticed them, they aren’t small at all. They are beginning to signify in grander ways. The story is now “about,” let’s say: distress; saving; judgement (is that cat in trouble or not?); having and losing (this resonance having been carried over from the long first graf). It’s about all sorts of things, already, many of them beneath, or beyond, the ability of language to quite express them.
Her quest begins:
The wife went downstairs and the hotel owner stood up and bowed to her as she passed the office. His desk was at the far end of the office. He was an old man and very tall.
“Il piove,” the wife said. She liked the hotel-keeper.
“Si, si, Signora, brutto tempo. It is very bad weather.”
He stood behind his desk in the far end of the dim room. The wife liked him. She liked the deadly serious way he received any complaints. 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.
Liking him she opened the door and looked out. It was raining harder. A man in a rubber cape was crossing the empty square to the cafe. The cat would be around to the right. Perhaps she could go along under the eaves. As she stood in the doorway an umbrella opened behind her. It was the maid who looked after their room.
“You must not get wet,” she smiled, speaking Italian. Of course, the hotel-keeper had sent her.
Lots to say here (after that slow beginning, we are positively flying through the lines now) but first let’s hear from all of you, in the comments, with some thoughts, if you would, on the following:
How has the story expanded, with this latest pulse? What new bowling pins are in the air? How has your understanding of (and feelings about) the wife changed? What are you expecting to happen next?
And again – if you’ve read the story before, please stand off to the side, smiling smugly, staying quiet in a spirit of artistic camaraderie. 😊
We’ll pick up again on December 26. Let me take this opportunity to wish you and yours the very happiest of holidays. And I’ll leave you with this, not Hemingway, but Dickens, from just after Scrooge wakes up from his encounter with the Three Spirits:
Yes! and the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!
“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!”
He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call. He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears.
“They are not torn down,” cried Scrooge, folding one of his bed-curtains in his arms, “they are not torn down, rings and all. They are here—I am here—the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will!”
His hands were busy with his garments all this time; turning them inside out, putting them on upside down, tearing them, mislaying them, making them parties to every kind of extravagance.
“I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”
And so, a Whoop and a Hallo, until we meet again, in four days…. What a happy thing, that the time before us is still our own, to make amends in.
The bowling pins in the air:
“Don’t get wet” is the main message here. The wife doesn’t want the cat to get wet, then her husband says “don’t get wet”, then she thinks of how she is going to avoid getting wet (walking under the eaves), then she hears “you must not get wet”, which is even a stronger version of the original one.
I am influenced by my mother tongue here (Portuguese), when I think of an idiom which can be literally translated as “if you are in the rain you are going to get wet”. It is used to either warn people of the consequences of their actions or to tell them to embrace a risky situation because there is no way out. But even without considering this expression, this whole paragraph is very ominous. To me, she is about to get into something deep and complicated.
The other striking element is the repetition of liking the hotel-keeper. Also, “Liking him she opened the door and looked out” is such an odd way to describe an action, so it registers as something relevant. It probably has to do with other elements that indicate she is a bit spoiled, or at least that she is used to being treated with reverence: the husband offers to help immediately (even if he backs off), the hotel owner bows when she walks by and always wants to serve her, she apparently has a lot of complaints… She likes him because he treats her exactly as she expects she should be treated and watched over (or sheltered - a good word in the context of all the rain).
Another thing is the man in the rubber cape. Because everything is so empty, I thought that his presence seemed important. He is running to the café, a place that has already been mentioned before. Maybe he will intervene in some way?
Because the story is about a couple (two Americans in the hotel) and there is always a man showing up in the empty spaces (a waiter, a man in the rubber cape) I expect there to be some marital troubles, real or internal. I wonder if Hemingway is going to fulfil or play with this expectation.
Hemingway can make even the word “the” work hard for the story. “The husband went on reading, lying propped up with the two pillows…” If he had just said “propped up with two pillows,” we might assume there are more than two on the bed. The “the” tells us there are exactly two, and the husband is using his own and his wife’s. Maybe she’d like to lie down too on this cozy rainy day, but he is using her pillow. Maybe she goes to the window in the first place because she does not feel welcome on the bed. (None of this in my humble opinion makes the husband a bad person, but it does maybe reveal something about him and about their relationship.)
Contrast this pillow-hogging with the hotel owner, who provides the woman with an umbrella. Rather than taking away an item of comfort (pillow) he is giving one (umbrella). And she really likes this, as Hemingway keeps telling us.
So the bowling pins, for me, are something like: giving and taking, comforting/sheltering vs. not comforting/sheltering, active vs. passive.