Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 476

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Voice is the key element in this story. Told in the first person, it is a classic dramatic monologue, for Sam reveals who he actually is even though he is not self-aware. The tone of the story is flip and brittle, rambling and self-oblivious, often going for the laugh with clever queries about his desire for love. For example, at one point, he asks if loyalty and trust are “Under a rock? Inside a chocolate-chip cookie?” Also, when he describes his fascination and sense of possession about his girlfriend’s bottom, saying “That’s mine. It’s beautiful,” he then asks what a woman’s bottom can actually do for you: “Hide you from the police? Call up your boss when you don’t feel well?”

Sam constantly moves back and forth between his scornful comments about women, such as saying he likes to see them bark for him, to self-deprecating remarks about himself, wondering why girls ever go out with him. When he feels sexually aroused by thoughts of John, he feels queasy with the weirdness of it and calls himself bad and naughty, a dirty kitty-cat.

The reader is never quite sure whether to be scornful of Sam’s superficiality or to be sympathetic with his self-deprecation. The center of this reader indecision is, of course, Sam’s feelings about John. On one hand, his attraction to John seems an obvious implication of his ambiguous feelings about women, for he is narcissistically drawn to someone who does not pose a threat to him. On the other hand, he seems genuinely concerned with understanding the meaning of this attraction. When he wears tanning cream and lip gloss, he insists it is not a sex thing, that rather it is a third thing he is trying to describe, perhaps a spiritual thing. This is as close as Sam comes to an understanding or identification with the idealism of Aschenbach in Mann’s classic novella.

When Sam calls John for the last time and John asks if he is gay, Sam insists that he did not think of sex with him but just wants to hang around with him, the two of them sitting together, getting a video or something. He says, “I don’t have to explain this. It’s obvious how I felt.” The problem is that it is not so obvious how Sam feels. He does not want a male lover nor simply a buddy but rather some combination of the two. The rambling, puzzled voice of Sam is what makes the story real and believable. It is not clear, nor is it important, whether Sam understands how to articulate the feelings he has for John. The story ends with the same tone of puzzlement that has persisted throughout, a tone that makes “Sam the Cat” a genuine exploration about a basic human mystery.