Themes and Meanings
“Sam the Cat” bears some similarity to Thomas Mann’s classic novella Der Tod in Venedig (1912; Death in Venice, 1925). In Mann’s story, the central figure Aschenbach falls in love with a young boy named Tadzio and puts on makeup, just as Sam does. Neither story, however, is really about homosexuality. Death in Venice is about a man torn between the cold purity of artwork and the warm decaying flesh of a human body. “Sam the Cat” is about a man who becomes fixated on a man he initially thinks is a woman and who thus becomes a sort of woman for him. Mann’s story is about love at its most paradoxically profound, whereas Matthew Klam’s story is about desire as an obsession that human beings cannot control.
The most important theme in “Sam the Cat” centers on the relationship between Sam’s attitude toward women and his obsession with John. Although Sam says he has always wanted real love, his definition of real love has nothing to do with commitment and everything to do with desire and the illusion of romance. He says he wants cut flowers, the finest champagne, and amazing parties with a see-through dance floor. What first attracted him to his former girlfriend Annie was her gorgeous long black hair; he was disillusioned to find out that the hair was a wig and that she was bald from a disease.
Sam says he loves women and that he loves being in love, even when he does not know with whom he is in love. However, at no time does he indicate that he likes a particular woman for her individual self. When he discovers that the woman with the high, tight athlete’s bottom at the bar is really a man, he actually has the perfect love object for his narcissistic self. Because Sam likes himself better than any woman he has ever met, his attraction to John, a man like himself, is inevitable, that is, as long as he does not define that attraction as homosexual. When Sam says that in his mind John was sort of a woman, he asks, “What do I want to say here?” What he wants to say is that John has none of the characteristics of women that Sam dislikes and all the characteristics of himself that he does like. Thus, it is inevitable that the story would end with Sam saying that he should marry himself and sail around the world with his cat as the mascot, for maybe out on the sea, he would come across something that he could understand.