The main characters in this Hemingway story are an American couple--George and his unnamed wife--an Italian padrone (hotelkeeper), and a hotel maid. The couple is on vacation in Italy, and they are stuck in their hotel room on a rainy day. George is depicted as indifferent to his wife's needs and desires; she wants to rescue a cat she sees out in the rain, but he makes no move to help her. Instead, he remains lying on the bed as he reads a book. Virtually the only time he pays much attention to her comes when she expresses a desire to grow her hair long so she can wear it in a knot; he prefers that she keep her hair short "like a boy's." The wife is restless and bored. She doesn't want to read; she wants to rescue the cat, which she seems to resemble, because she even says, "It's no fun being a poor kitty out in the rain" after she has made an attempt to retrieve the cat with the assistance of the hotelkeeper who has directed the maid to hold an umbrella to shield the wife from the rain.
The couple is unhappy, particularly the wife, who expresses a yearning for things feminine (brushing her hair, her own silver, candles, tablecloth) but mostly she wants the cat. It seems she wants something to hold that will respond to her affection because her husband is unresponsive and unattentive. Her litany of desires may even signal a desire for a baby that would also love her, but the possibility of conceiving a child seems remote because George's most direct comments are "Shut up and get something to read" and "I think you think look pretty darn good" in response to her wish to grow out her hair. He is more interested in his book than he is in her. The wife, on the other hand, appreciates the way the hotelkeeper makes her feel important and special. Outside their hotel room, their view includes a war monument, which may represent the subtle battle being waged in their room.
Hemingway's style is terse and to the point. Easy to read, his writing is often misinterpreted as simple or even simplistic. This writer, however, ascribed to what he called his "iceberg theory" in which he declared seven-eighths of what he meant to convey was beneath the surface, just as the same percentage of an iceberg is submerged. Read the story carefully for clues to the characters.