Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

by T. S. Eliot

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What themes did T. S. Eliot use in "Macavity: The Mystery Cat"?

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Not all works of literature have a theme; some authors write merely to express a sentiment or to create an image. However, if we had to analyze T.S. Eliot’s “Macavity: The Mystery Cat” for theme, we might say it reveals a flaw in law enforcement agencies who are unable to detect the perpetrators of crimes.

Macavity is quite mischievous throughout the poem. He is responsible for numerous crimes, but he always has an alibi, so he cannot be blamed. The speaker claims that Macavity, a cat, has “broken every human law,” yet no law enforcement agency can convict him. Eliot’s repetition of “Macavity’s not there!” after each stanza compels the reader to smile, because we know that cats are quite slippery. They hide under furniture and only come out when they are hungry or need attention. We can relate our knowledge of cats to this poem. Eliot’s choice of a cat as the criminal is understandable, as the poet describes typical cat behaviors. Macavity is light on his feet, likes milk, can be found cleaning his paws, and so on. On the other hand, he also can be found doing complicated mathematical problems while being suspected of having stolen jewels. The reader must suspend disbelief to reconcile the typical cat behaviors with the human behaviors of a criminal.

If we take Macavity as a symbol of a true criminal, Eliot seems to be saying that such masterminds are untouchable. Neither Scotland Yard nor the Secret Service can convict Macavity, because he is too suave and sneaky to be caught. No matter how efficient law enforcement agencies may be, they will never get past Macavity’s alibis. Perhaps Eliot is commenting on loopholes in the justice system which allow criminals to go free instead of being punished for their crimes. Or perhaps he merely wrote a poem that children and adults could enjoy together.

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