What are the respective roles of the maid and hotel-keeper in "Cat in the Rain"?

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The hotel-keeper and maid serve as foils for the indifferent American husband and the entitled American wife. Indeed, the hotel-keeper and maid are much more relatable characters as well.

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In Ernest Hemingway's short story "Cat in the Rain," the American wife is a woman who suffers from a bad case of entitlement. She and her husband are traveling in Italy and are confined to their hotel room one day because of the rain. The wife sees a cat outside in the rain under a table. She declares that she is going down to get the kitty.

As the wife walks toward the exit, she passes the hotel-keeper's office. The wife reflects on how much she likes him because he is a good servant who takes complaints seriously. As the wife opens the door and looks out into the rain, a maid shows up with an umbrella. The maid patiently holds the umbrella over the American, not seeming to care if she gets wet herself. She merely asks if the American has lost something. The wife tells her about the cat but is very disappointed when the cat is nowhere to be found. "Oh, I wanted it so much," she exclaims. "I wanted a kitty."

The maid gets the American girl (notice the change in description part way through the story) back into the hotel. The young woman is still horribly disappointed (although dry; the maid, however, is probably not so fortunate there) and complains to her husband about all the things she wants until her husband gets tired of listening to her. She especially declares that she wants a cat right that minute.

Then there is a knock at the door. It is the maid with a large tortoiseshell cat in her arms. The hotel-keeper has sent up the cat to please his American guest.

Let's think about how the maid and the hotel-keeper work as characters in the story. First, they both serve as foils (opposites) of the American wife and her husband. Where the husband is largely indifferent toward his wife and even tells her shut up when she is bothering him, the hotel-keeper is courteous and gracious. He wants to fulfill his guest's desire to have a cat, and indeed, he gets a cat for her. Whether or not this will be good for the lady and the cat in the long run is questionable, but the hotel-keeper is kind enough to try.

The maid, too, serves as a foil, this time for the American wife. While the young woman is selfish and demanding, fussing when she doesn't get what she wants, the maid is completely selfless. She holds the umbrella so the American doesn't get wet (and probably gets more than a little wet herself in the process). She even manages to hold her tongue when she finds out that this guest has dragged her out into the rain for a cat that isn't even there any longer (although her face tightens). The maid also graciously brings up the cat even though that means more time out of her busy schedule.

Indeed, the hotel-keeper and the maid are both much more sympathetic and relatable characters than than the spoiled wife and her indifferent husband. We are left to wonder if it wouldn't be a much better thing to be working hard in an Italian hotel than traveling abroad, bored and unsatisfied.

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