Cat in the Rain - a formalistic interpretation When I studied English, I learned to interpret literature formalistically. This method convinced me then and it still convinces me now. As it might not be common knowledge what „formalistic interpretation‟ means, I‟d like to show you by guiding you through Hemingway‟s Short Story „Cat in the Rain‟. This opinion is not university stuff, no, I wrote it especially for you! Some readers will find their names included into the opinion. Why‟s that? Where? What for? Have patience, my friends! You might be curious and scroll to the end, but you won‟t understand much without reading the beginning and the middle, too. It is necessary to read the text proper before the interpretation and while interpreting it we need to look at it several times, so it might be a good idea to read offline or to print the text and put it beside the computer. I‟m sorry about the way it looks, I wrote the numbers in front of the lines, but when I post the text, they disappear in it. It‟s not my fault! „Cat in the Rain‟ belongs to the so called Short Short Stories, why, becomes clear when you look at your watch while reading. How long does it take? Off we go: That was a quick read, wasn‟t it? And when we write a summary of this Short Story, we don‟t need much time, either. It could look like that: „An American couple stays in an Italian hotel on a rainy day. Looking out of the window the wife sees a kitty. She wants to fetch it, but when she comes into the yard, it has disappeared. She goes back to her husband and a short time later the maid brings her a cat, but it‟s a different one„. You might probably ask yourselves what the story is really about, what the author wants to tell us, even if he wants to tell us anything at all. In order to find that out, we‟re going to look at the text closely - and that‟s the whole secret of a formalistic interpretation. We want to find OUT what is IN the text and not interpret things INTO it. At the moment it‟s not important to know who the author is, where, when and under which circumstances the story was written. The interpretation is not longer than a normal opinion, in fact, I‟ve already read lots of much longer opinions by...(I won‟t name any names here!). If you already feel exhausted, you can leave quietly. Close the door, please! XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX When we start r eading, we don‟t know anything, the author must create a background for us, in front of which he wants to place his characters, he must create a mood, too, and put us on the right track. We learn only in l. 7 that the hotel is in Italy, but that the Americans must stay somewhere abroad is obvious because of their being called „Americans‟ which wouldn‟t make sense if they travelled in their own country. They are alone, „only two Americans‟, they don‟t know any of the other guests (l. 1). They are isolated in their room because of the rain, from the room an „empty square‟ can be seen (l. 13). The war monument (destruction/death) (l. 8) adds to the negative mood. It‟s true that the rain is responsible for the fact that the two people have to stay in their room, but it hasn‟t got a negative connotation, on the contrary. Now we‟re going to count all the words which have to do with rain/water up to l. 16. There are ten, 5 times rain/raining, 1 sea, 1 water. 1 pool, 2 dripping/dripped. In such a short text it‟s significant when a word or term is repeated. Together with public garden (2), palm trees (3), the garden (1) the rain/water becomes symbolic. We can subsume the above mentioned words under the headline „nature‟ and ask: What does rain mean for nature? The answer is: Fertility! In l. 14 we learn that the two Americans are a couple, up to the encounter with the hotel owner the word „wife‟ is mentioned three times, „husband‟ twice, thus stressing the fact that they are married. When the woman passes the hotel owner to fetch the cat, he gets up and bows, an action which stands in sharp contrast to the way in which the husband behaves: „her husband offered from the bed‟ (l. 18) and „lying...at the foot of the bed‟ (l. 21). The woman „likes‟ the hotel owner, all in all the word „li ked‟ is used eight times. The man is old (twice), by pointing this out it becomes clear that the woman is young, he treats her with respect and tries to console her when he notices that she has a problem, even if he doesn‟t understand it. For the moment let that be enough. When the woman opens the door, she sees a man in a rubber cape. There are only very few characters in the Short Story, so each must have a meaning. I‟d like to quote an American critic here whose interpretation is convincing, but also ridiculous in its prudishness. “The rubber cape is protection from the rain, and rain is a fundamental necessity for fertility, and fertility is precisely what is lacking in the young American wife‟s marriage. (Now, hark!) An even more precise interpretation is possible but perhaps not necessary here.” (!) From the moment she notices that the cat is gone (l. 41), the woman is no longer called „wife‟, but „the American girl‟. The word „girl‟ is repeated four times, the woman loses her femininity, so to speak, when she can‟t find the small being she wants to look after. When she returns to her husband, he interrupts his reading only for a short time, he doesn‟t really care, to be precise, he doesn‟t understand what the whole thing is about. In l. 74 the woman says that she gets „so tired of looking like a boy‟, from l. 80 onwards we get to know what she wants to do with her hair and what else she wants to do or have. The words „I want‟ are repeated 7 times: „a kitty to sit on my lap and purr when I stroke her/to eat at a table with my own silver/candles/some new clothes‟ - all these things taken together indicate femininity/an own home/motherhood. Logically the word „wife‟ is used again here. (l. 88) The husband‟s only comment is „Oh, shut up and get something to read 7;. (l. 87) The story could end here, but the author adds a grotesque twist, the symbolic wish of the young woman is fulfilled in a cruelly realistic way. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX We‟ve come to the end of the interpretation, i.e., we‟re going to stop here. We could go on and look at the structure, too, but I think it‟s enough for today. Quite astonishing what the text reveals when we look at it attentively, isn‟t it? But haven‟t we exaggerated and seen too much in the text which really isn‟t there? Now I‟d like to introduce the first information from outside, namely that Hemingway was famous for his very careful way of working. He rewrote the ending of one of his novels 36 times until he was content! The second information is that Hemingway developed the „iceberg theory‟. He said that in his literary work seven eights were hidden under the water, so we‟re doing just the right thing when we see each word as carefully chosen and significant. „Cat in the Rain‟ is considered one of Hemingway‟s best Short Stories; if there‟s someone out there who can understand why it‟s a masterpiece after my little guiding tour, I‟ll call it a day! XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX So we‟ve found out everything there is to know just by looking at the text. Background information about the author, his CV, the time when the Short Story was written, literary tendencies prevailing at the time etc. etc. are INTERESTING, but not essential for the interpretation. But, of course, the text hasn‟t just fallen out of the sky, it does belong to a certain period of the author‟s biography, it uses background material from the world he knew, how could it be otherwise? Why should I (capital letter) tell you everything? Come and help me knit a net of information, weave a context in which we can see this piece of literature. I‟m now distributing some topics, when you‟ve finished your papers, please hand them in. Lamorna: „Discuss if the woman‟s behaviour might be caused by PMS (PreMenstrual Syndrome) or other hormonal phenomena.‟ Jill Murphy: „Write a sequel and make clear in which direction you see the relationship developing. In case you foresee offspring, suggest kids‟ fiction for the preschool years.‟ Chris105: „Discuss the fact that the Italian phrases are not correct and make clear what that reveals about the American expatriates‟ situation abroad‟. Myk Reeve: „Compare war memorials in GB and Italy (World War I and II) from the political and artistic point of view (your paper should not be longer than the original text)‟. Scotgirl: „Inform yourself about Hemingway‟s political inclination and discuss if it was the (only) motive for his various stays abroad‟: Plumptious: „Compare the relationship the British/Americans have with their pets to the one Southern Europeans have‟. Redhead23: „Discuss in how far the desire to change her hairstyle reflects the protagonist‟s psychological state of mind, compare with Scott Fitzgerald‟s story „Bernice Bobs her Hair‟‟. leahslad: „Experiment and report in how far a rubber cape can be considered an alternative contraceptive‟. Ashford: „Make a list of all the places you‟ve been to and the ones Hemingway visited and state where your paths might have crossed had you lived earlier.‟ MAURY: „Discuss the importance of silverware and candles when it comes to the creation of a cosy home‟. Nolly: „Find out if Hemingway visited Germany, if so why, if not, develop a theory why he didn‟t.‟ Kenjohn: „When Hemingway was in Italy the first time he worked as the driver of an ambulance for the American Red Cross. Find out which type of car he used and discuss its pros and cons.‟ Trevor15: „Develop a work-out programme for someone frequently lying on their bed while reading‟. huddro: 'Hemingway was staying in Rapallo, Italy, when he wrote 'Cat in the Rain'. Try to find the hotel from which a square with a war monument on it can be seen, describe it and comment on its qualities.' Alkaliguru: „Write a comment to the point‟. P.S. DO go to the comment section and find out who's handed in their assignment!
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