Rembrandt's Hat Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

After his wife left him, Rubin, the sculptor, took to wearing various odd hats. Now, at age forty-six, he favors a visorless, soft, round white cap. Arkin, the art historian at the New York City art school where Rubin also teaches, thinks that the hat “illumines a lonely inexpressiveness arrived at after years of experience.” He tells Rubin that the hat resembles Rembrandt’s hat—the one that Rembrandt wears in the profound self-portraits of his middle age. The day after Arkin makes this remark, Rubin stops wearing the hat and begins to avoid him.

Arkin—“a hypertensive bachelor of thirty-four”—has considered himself friendly with Rubin, although they are not really friends. Arkin has been at the school for seven years, having left an art curator’s job in St. Louis to come to New York. Arkin could never get Rubin to say anything at all about his artwork. Arkin remembers that when he first arrived, Rubin was working in wood, altering driftwood objects with a hatchet. At that time Rubin was persuaded by the director of the art school to present an exhibition—his only one. The exhibit was not a success, and Rubin spent the time sulking in a storage room at the rear of the gallery. Recently, Arkin suggested that it might be a good idea for Rubin to show his new work, which is constructed from welded triangular pieces of scrap iron. The suggestion obviously irritated Rubin.

After the hat remark, months pass during which Rubin avoids Arkin. After a while Arkin, too, becomes irritated, reasoning that “he didn’t like people who didn’t like him.” He usually worries, however, that it might be his fault. He decides that he has probably done three things to alienate Rubin: not mentioning Rubin’s driftwood show; suggesting the possibility of a new show that Rubin obviously does not want; and commenting on Rubin’s white cap. He makes up his mind to apologize to...

(The entire section is 777 words.)