The Unconscious Struggle inside the Female --- A Close Reading on Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain”
Talking about the short story, Ernest Hemingway is one must for all readers. Ernest Hemingway is one of the greatest 20th-century American writers who have a tremendous influence on the literature. His “iceberg” technique makes most of his stories meaningful and effective. “Cat in the Rain” is the one of the best. A couple of American stays in an Italian hotel in a rainy day. The wife catches a sight of a poor cat crouching under a table from the rain outside. She wants to bring it in. However when she comes to the yard only finds the cat is missing. After returning to the room a maid sends her another cat. Hemingway said:“There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that you show. Any thing you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg”. With the “iceberg” theory given by Hemingway, it reveals a fact that the design of every scene, character, plot, movement has its implicit meaning. This short story reveals the unconscious struggle in the wife’s heart, which is between the pursuit of freedom and independence, and being conditioned with the traditional woman situation. This notion is manifested by the feature of the characters, the conversations, and the reaction of the figure and so on. And the cats, which can be considered the main character, are the most impressive ones. The wild cat couching under the table in the heavy rain symbols the freedom and independence which the wife chases subconsciously. In the opposite, the domestic cat, which is sent by the hotel keeper, represents the traditional woman social status or situation—being protected, submissive and tamed. At seeing the wild cat in the rain, a desire of possession arises in the wife’s heart, and even she herself can’t explain why she wants the cat so much. Such kind of desire reveals the pursuit of freedom and independence of the wife. However, Hemingway didn’t give a clear ending that whether the wife receive the domestic cat or not. In my point of view, because the wife doesn’t realize her inside feeling, her confusion, or rather conflict between freedom and tradition is showed quiet clearly. Besides the cats, the theme disclosed by male figures, the husband and the hotel keeper in the story can be found through analyzing their attitude to the wife. Concerning the conversations between the wife and the husband, the response of the husband, compared with his wife’s emotional and long dialogues, is shorter but stronger. Take the husband’s reaction to the wife at the beginning, what he says is, “I’ll get it”, “Don’t get wet” or “shut up and get something to read”at the final. All of these dialogues are seemed more like an order than a suggestion. As for the hotel keeper, every time the wife passing by him, a feeling of affection arises in the wife. Hemingway devoted several sentences to describe the reason why the wife likes the hotel keeper at the first time she passing. She likes the way he received complaints, his dignity, the way he serves her, and so on. And the delight of being serviced is also revealed. The second time she passing, after she finds the cat is missing: Something felt very small and tight inside the girl. The padrone made her felt very small and at the same time really important. She had a momentary feeling of being of supreme importance. From this, the fact that the protection and respect from the hotel keeper makes her feel superior can be discovered. The attitudes to the wife of the husband and the hotel keeper are opposite in a way. Through the reactions of these two male characters, the indifference of the husband and the consideration of the hotel keeper are expressed clearly. The consideration is showed in the details that the padrone asks the maid to send the wife an umbrella and a domestic cat, and he gives a bow to her when she passing. However, no matter what kinds of attitudes, one thing which is the same to wife is that she is under the superiority of the male and cannot escape from this kind of restraint. However, in the light of the wife, to be ordered or to be serviced, she is lack of her own independence. What’s more, the husband, the hotel keeper and even the passer-by (who is a man) share one common feature, that it is, superior. The evidence which can prove this notion is the object used by the male figures. A good illustration is the husband never leaves his bed, the padrone has his own desk, and the passer-by gets a rubber cape. Bed, the most important object in the bedroom, to some degree, represents a kind of superiority, such as a desk in the hotel hall. These two main objects imply the superiority of the male. And compared the wife and the passer-by, the wife runs out of the hotel without any rain gear, while the passer-by wears in a rubber cape which can protects himself from getting wet.This tiny detail also suggests that female cannot protect herself by her own. Another female figure in “Cat in the Rain” is the maid. The twice appearances of her are under the order of the hotel keeper. The first time is the hotel keeper sends her to look after the wife, and the second is the hotel keeper sends her to bring the domestic cat to the wife. Hemingway offers the clue distinctly. “Of course, the hotel keeper had sent her”and “She said, ‘the padrone asked me to bring this for the Signora." Such kinds of plots tells us the low status of the maid, and develops the theme effectively once again. The low social status, dominated by male and without self-awareness is revealed. The comparison between male and female, wild cat and domestic cat in “Cat in the Rain”, shows the superiority of male and inferiority of female. Moreover, the unconscious struggle of choosing freedom and independence or the woman traditional situation in the wife’s heart is showed as the more important theme which Hemingway wanted to tell us.