Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Spencer Holst’s satirical fable encompasses topics ranging from the dangers of scientific experimentation to the perverse natures of love and communication. Rather than explore a large issue such as the moral insanity of scientists creating a weapon capable of destroying all life, Holst compresses this theme through his scientist’s need to turn everything into an experiment and then flee the consequences of his actions.

Rather unsubtly, Holst points out his protagonist’s insensitivity in the name of experimentation. His fascination with his cat would seem to imply fondness for all cats, but this is disproved when he systematically records their sounds: “He carefully compared the shriek when a right front foot was being amputated, to that made when a left front leg was being cut.” He just as casually records their sounds when mating, giving birth, fighting, and dying. The result, communication, is much more important than the means of obtaining it. Communication, whether by human or animal, expresses emotions, but the scientist is consumed by the process while ignoring the emotional side. For him, morality never enters the equation.

The same holds true when the scientist’s cat warns him of the attack on Washington and Moscow. Although brilliant as a scientist, he is, as his wife can attest, ineffectual as a human being. Unable to decide how to communicate the cats’ message, he runs away. Science is supposed to...

(The entire section is 584 words.)