Themes and Characters
In the poem "How to Address a Cat," Eliot states the central theme of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats: "Cats are much like you and me/ And other people whom we find/ Possessed of various types of mind." The Cats (the term is always capitalized) described in this book reveal a blend of human and feline qualities. Each Cat might be known by several names, and Eliot, as well, demonstrates that Cats, like people, have three distinct identities: the superficial or everyday, the unique or distinctive, and the most deeply personal. Eliot's distinctions are seen in the two personalities of Jennyanydots, the "Gumbie Cat." Called a "gumbie" because all day she does nothing but sit, at night Jennyanydots is extremely active, feeding and educating the mice and the cockroaches, and creating a well-ordered household. Likewise, the Jellicle Cats generally appear to be simply ordinary Cats, but when the Jellicle Moon appears, they become exceptional dancers.
The Cats, like their human counterparts, represent a wide range of character types. Growltiger, "The Terror of the Thames," is a villain, a bully, and a killer, but he has his sentimental side; while courting the Lady Griddlebone, he is attacked by the Siamese and made to "walk the plank." This results in worldwide rejoicing, but there is also a note of sadness in the loss of this larger-than-life villain who seems to have some of the appeal of gangsters in American movies of the 1930s.
(The entire section is 796 words.)
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