What moral value can be found in Ernest Hemingway's short story "Cat in the Rain"?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Hemingway's short story "Cat in the Rain" is essentially a symbolic story of wants and needs. As an American social critic, the story "Cat in the Rain," like so many of his other works, features Americans living in Europe, specifically Italy; most likely, they are even ex-patriots. As a social critic, Hemingway portrays the American husband as being particularly insensitive to his wife's wants and needs, but Hemingway even presents the wife as being scared to fulfill her own wants and needs. Instead, it is the hotel owner who sees to the American wife's protection and wants. Hence, if we are to draw a moral from the story, it would be that Americans, and those like Americans, are far too withdrawn from social interaction.

Hemingway juxtaposes the husband's actions against the hotel owner's actions. When the wife declares that she is going down to get the kitty, her husband offers to do it but actually does not move a muscle. He continues lying on the bed, reading, showing no actual physical or emotional involvement in his wife or her wants and needs. In great contrast, the hotel owner shows her a great deal of respect. Not only does he bow to her, when she hesitates to go out into the rain, he sends the maid to hold the umbrella for the wife and to escort her out.

The wife's own hesitation to go out into the rain, like the husband's hesitation, is also very important and very symbolic. It symbolizes the fact that, while her husband is disinterested in fulfilling her wants and needs, she herself is also too scared to fulfill them herself. Instead, she requires the human touch and human interaction from both the hotel owner and the maid in order for her to be brave enough to try. We especially see the lack of human touch and interaction she is receiving from her husband when, back in the hotel room, she asks her husband if she should grow her short hair out because she is tired of it looking like a boy's. Her husband's reply is, "You look pretty darn nice," which is a very emotionless response to come from a husband. Note the fact that he does not say she looks beautiful or lovely. Plus, the fact that he seems to want her to look like a boy symbolizes the lack of passion, romance, and human touch and interaction in their marriage. When she even commences to complain about all the things she wants, such as her own silver, candles, springtime, to brush her hair, a kitty, and new clothes, his response is, "Oh, shut up and get something to read," again showing just how uninvolved he is with his wife and her wants and needs. At the end of the story, it is again the Italian maid who fulfills at least one the wife's wants by bringing her the "big tortoiseshell cat." Since it is the Italians and not the American husband who interacts with the American wife, this shows us Hemingway's complaint that Americans are far too socially withdrawn, which further conveys the moral lesson of just how wrongful and unjust a lack of social and human interaction can be.

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