A P.S. of sorts
And the big question: what made us keep going, line to line? What are the micro-qualities of the prose (word choice, rhythm) that compelled and intrigued us? The pattern of knowing, then wondering, etc. Or, more broadly: Can you draw any conclusions on how YOU read? What are you looking for, line to line? And so on.
One thing the first paragraph does for me is remind me what a great big world is out there, a world with wars and heroes and art and artists and the vast oceans. The American wife’s desire, her longing, wouldn’t feel as real without that paragraph.
Can’t believe I’m getting this opportunity. God is good. Thank you, George.
"Why is that last page so much darker? Perhaps, I was being metaphorical, trying to subtly track the movement of the story (“It was quite dark now…”) or maybe…that one was taken on a different counter than the others. Who can say? Art is a mystery." This is the best. I'm going to use this for all my technical struggles.
Thank you for this experience. I can feel my brain changing. As you said, there are ways to be a better reader and I'd like to be on that path. One of my struggles with Hemingway, and there are so many teachers in this class so perhaps someone has a wise bit of advice...I've known too much about him as a person (because he, the person, is much discussed in our culture) and it did impact the way I read this story. I realize that it might create "rabbit holes" for the mind to go down that has nothing to do with learning technique, building tension, the way words are used and evolve in the story, his style and intention. I wonder how we would've read the story if we knew absolutely nothing about Hemingway's personal life. Anyway, I love the comments on these lessons.
Thank you, Teacher. Oh, if I had had a teacher like you I might not have become a math teacher! I’d like to add two thoughts to wrap up this exercise: first of all, the only time I could picture George, (not you, Teacher) was when he said, “Oh, shut up, and find something to read.” I pictured him amused, half genuinely smiling at his pet wife and her little declarations. She’s there to entertain him, although he does get a little tired of it. And finally, the ideas and external knowledge I gathered from all your comments made my reading so much more interesting! Thank you, dear members, for your opinions and experience in the field of literature, as readers, but mainly as teachers and writers!! What a privilege this is to participate with you, George Saunders, and this class of smart, funny and enlightened (and supportive) people!
I became a little fixated on wanting to see the war monument and went searching for a picture of it. I found this article that says the monument in Rapallo stood for less than 20 years before being melted down in the 1930s...for military hardware. That also seems like a terrible joke. The monument to the war to end all wars was melted down to make weapons for the next world war. Later a new one replaced it. Not only do we not get the same cat, we don't get the same war monument.
Thank you so much, George. Your warmth, humor and generosity make me feel as though I'm right there in the classroom with you. Recommended by a writer friend, Story Club has turned out to be the best holiday gift I could have hoped for: the opportunity to become regularly immersed in a world with other writers, talking about what we love best. So excited for Story Club 2022!
Thank you for this first exercise, George. I’ve throughly enjoyed being part of it. As one of those who missed that it might be a different cat, I am grateful to you for sharing that you read this story many times before it hit you that it might be a different cat.
I also felt that sense of distance that Hemingway has to his characters, even though I too in a previous comment noted that because of the specificity in his writing, I wondered if they were based on him and his wife. Which kinda makes the story sadder if true.
But I just love love love your insight about the way a writer can be asking and answering the question, “What is the highest way in which to regard our fellow human beings?”
Here’s to a great 2022 with lots of Story Club as we aspire to ask and answer that question in our writing as best we can.
I keep turning the story over in my head, and I keep coming back to that boyish haircut. The wife says explicitly that she is tired of looking like a boy, which doesn’t sound to me like it’s a fashionable bob or anything feminine. I think that’s part of the power of how the maid addresses her in the end, regardless of the identity of the cat or it’s appropriateness as a gift. That “Signora” is more than just a term of polite respect. It is recognition that the American wife is a *woman* (not a child and definitely not a boy), which I think is what she ultimately wants. It’s an exceedingly lovely gift.
What a perfect story to go over this week–it’s been raining all week it seems. The mood of the story fit the weather in NY perfectly. It has been so nice to think so much about short stories, which I love and forgot how much I loved. I have truly appreciated reading so many interesting comments from so many different people.
For personal extra credit, I did some of my own exercises. Someone said this would be a fun vignette to act out, so I tied my hair up in a knot and had my cat sit on my lap for a while (ha ha, yes, I’m bored!). What does that feel like? It’s very serene and comforting. I don't have any silver though...Another random personal extra credit: I wrote a story using the pulses we were given as a guide. I had an idea that I didn’t know how to start, and I used the scaffolding of this story to help me flesh out a visual idea that I had. Sort of like writing a song by using the chords of another song that you may know very well.
Anyway: Thank you, thank you. Looking forward to learning more. And looking forward to the sun being out this week!
In the previous post, GS wrote that "[f]iction is lovely because it ... lets us (briefly) reside in a more truthful land, where things are rich in contradiction and, not only do we not mind it, we like it. We get a glimpse of who we might be if we decided/opined/were sure less often, or a little later in the game."
In a nutshell, this is why the Humanities matter, especially now, especially after being in the decline for so many decades.
Can I begin, as a teacher, by thanking you, George for generously sharing your teaching tips for this story? I’m definitely going to use the method with my students.
As for my feelings about the story itself, for me, the whole thing comes together around the wife’s aspiration to eat at her own table, with her own silver. This reads to me not so much as a sense of entitlement as insecurity. I wonder all the way through if this couple has a home or if they’re drifting from hotel to hotel. There’s no real suggestion they’re on a trip. The sense of the reluctant Bohemian lifestyle is reinforced by her short hair (in the immediate past WW1 period). She wants to grow her hair back into something more matronly and respectable.
I think she sees herself in the kitty in the rain and also the desire for a child, and I think Hemingway shows us, with the final gift of the big lump of a cat, that wishes may come true but not as we expect. (On the subject of the cat as child substitute, there are aspects of this story that remind me of The Sun Also Rises, with its narrator who has been rendered impotent by a war wound.)
Well, there’s my two penn’ orth. Happy new year to all who are celebrating.
Thank you so much for this. The slowing down. The permission to let things bubble. I began to really notice and to really experience how one sentence leads to the next. I mean experiencing writing in a way that I'd never truly "got" before. Of course, intellectually this always made sense. But this forced slowly down was more of a visceral experience. Fabulous!
I'm definitely going to play with this in my English classes. I'll be teaching the transcendentalists next and I start with Emerson's Nature. You know how sentences are really just about everything with Emerson? . . . I'm going to print out the introduction to Nature and do exactly as we've done here with Hemingway. Slowing down is really the only way to even begin to grasp what Emerson is stating. And getting high school students to slow down is not always easy. So, thank you for giving me the feeling I can go with the less is more approach in terms of pacing.
Oh, and my reaction to this story initially? I was initially embarrassed that I found it a sadly funny ending. And, in fact, laughed out loud when the maid appeared with a large (likely new) cat.
I didn't want to comment before because I've read the story a lot and it seemed out of the spirit of the exercise! But I think it's a different cat because no wet cat would be "swung down" against the maid's body: that is a cat that was recently sleeping. (I doubt the maid would hold a wet cat in this way anyway.) I don't think the wife wants a cat - this cat or the wet cat. Her husband is absent, controlling, shows no sign of love and barely any sign of attention. She tells him that she wants change -- but elliptically, by asking about her haircut (not fixable! it's cut short! how many years would it take to get enough to have a "big knot"?) and saying she wants it to be spring. She mixes up things that can easily be had, things he clearly is not letting her have, and things that are not have-able, and punctuates it with a cat. She doesn't want a cat. She wants her husband to notice her, hear her dissatisfaction, do something about it. To me this is a story that is all about frustration. I have always thought they were on their honeymoon (it doesn't actually say that) and she is realizing her epic mistake in marrying him. She thought it would be different. He doesn't care, or he's resigned, he tells her to read, he does nothing but read. And she's afraid, maybe of him or (I think) of her mistake in marrying him. It's not "any fun". But she doesn't want to give it up yet, she doesn't want to cause trouble or start a fight or leave; she doesn't have the assurance that she's important enough in this marriage to do that. I don't thinks she wants a cat: I think she is the cat, "trying to make herself so compact that she would not get dripped on".
This has been such a great experience. Thank you, to George and to everyone for the insightful comments.
I really like the idea that the task is to start with your initial response to a piece and work towards making sense of it. Learning needn’t be, as I think is often taken for granted, a matter of increasingly complex theorising. It can be as simple as paying attention to how the work is affecting you.
I’ll be taking that away from the exercise, along with the related thought that ambiguity can often be a virtue, not a vice.
Heartfelt thanks for running this series, and for introducing me (sorry... ) to this story. I feel I have discovered something important, but if I look too closely, and try to articulate what it is, it might vanish. But it's got something to do with slowing down. Something to do with respecting the words, and the order in which they are gifted to me. Something to do with cutting out the noise and listening to the small things. For a while during this exercise, I found myself pushing back, thinking 'how can anyone possibly know what is really intended, unless you have the writer there and can cross-question?' Now, I know I was thinking codswallop. Listening to those small things is probably the key.