How is the use of irony present in "Cat in the Rain"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With irony as the contrast or incongruity between what is expected to happen and what actually does, there is within Hemingway's short story, "Cat in the Rain," an irony in the relationship of the American husband and wife. For, while they sequester themselves in the hotel room in Italy when, instead, they could be on the shore enjoying the sea breeze, or in the public park, or visiting the war monument, they create their own discontent.

The discontent in the husband's life is in his withdrawal into reading; that of the wife's life is manifested in her desire for the cat that is out in the rain as well as how she likes so many things about the hotel-keeper who is always solicitous of her. But, when she does venture outside, she does not catch the cat as it is gone. "She was suddenly disappointed" and returns to the room without making any effort to find it.  When in the room, the woman, nevertheless, tells her husband that she wanted it "so much" even though she has not tried to find it.  As she, then, looks at her reflection in the mirror, she draws her husband's attention to her, asking about her hair. George "shifts his position in the bed" and tells her, "You look pretty darn nice." 

It is at this point that the dramatic irony is present, the contradiction between what a character thinks and what the reader or audience knows to be true. For, apparently, George, who has moved and stopped his reading, is paying attention to his wife now, but she is too insensitive to his desires in her self-absorption that she misses the opportunity to really have attention and restore a meaningful relationship with her spouse.  Instead, she continues to talk of her wants and her shallow concept of love:

"I want to have a kitty sit on my lap and purr when I stroke her."

The American woman perceives love only as a reflection of herself.  Just as "She liked the way he wanted to serve her," her perception of others is always in terms of her reflection and the acquisition of something whether it be admiration, attention, or material things such as silver and candles.  Ironically, the American woman does not realize that it is the communal life, the going forward into the rain of risking oneself in love, that gives true meaning to one's life.