Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats Characters

T. S. Eliot

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

In the poem "How to Address a Cat," Eliot states the central theme of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats: "Cats are much like you and me/ And other people whom we find/ Possessed of various types of mind." The Cats (the term is always capitalized) described in this book reveal a blend of human and feline qualities. Each Cat might be known by several names, and Eliot, as well, demonstrates that Cats, like people, have three distinct identities: the superficial or everyday, the unique or distinctive, and the most deeply personal. Eliot's distinctions are seen in the two personalities of Jennyanydots, the "Gumbie Cat." Called a "gumbie" because all day she does nothing but sit, at night Jennyanydots is extremely active, feeding and educating the mice and the cockroaches, and creating a well-ordered household. Likewise, the Jellicle Cats generally appear to be simply ordinary Cats, but when the Jellicle Moon appears, they become exceptional dancers.

The Cats, like their human counterparts, represent a wide range of character types. Growltiger, "The Terror of the Thames," is a villain, a bully, and a killer, but he has his sentimental side; while courting the Lady Griddlebone, he is attacked by the Siamese and made to "walk the plank." This results in worldwide rejoicing, but there is also a note of sadness in the loss of this larger-than-life villain who seems to have some of the appeal of gangsters in American movies of the 1930s.

Even more subtle rogues are Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer, who are responsible for all kinds of theft and destruction. Because the pair are charming and their alibis "plausible," the victims may attribute all disasters to this team, but the response is simply that "there's nothing at all to be done about that!"

The most sinister of the criminal Cats is Macavity, "The Hidden Paw," also known as the "Napoleon of Crime." Not only is this master criminal never present when any crime is...

(The entire section is 796 words.)