Discuss the significance of binary oppositions in Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain”

5 May 2016

Looking at Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain”, we can find obvious binary oppositions lying in its different layers. Under the concept gender, we can see the man/woman binary opposition from the beginning of the story.

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When at first we are introduced to the American couple, they are confined in their hotel room because of the rain. Later in the story the man is depicted as negligent to his wife’s constant outbreaks to attract attention. The American wife is in need of attention and protection which could be the reason why she feels a sudden attraction to the hotel-keeper, which can be seen in these lines: “The wife liked him. She liked…. She liked his dignity”; and the next paragraph actually begins with these lines “liking him she opened the door and looked out”.

The point worth noting here is that the man/woman binary opposition in this text is not only present in the layer above mentioned (gender), but also in almost all readings of the story, due to this couple’s differences and the way they communicate. Her husband does not want any change as his wife does and he does not wish to fulfill her emotional needs in the story, and he is content to lie in bed and read his newspapers with complete disinterest.

In fact, he is annoyed by her repeated obsession over the cat and her constant interruptions of him while he is paying attention to something other than her, “Oh shut up and get something to read “as he addresses her with utmost lack of interest.

In addition other binary oppositions which can be found in this story are arranged under the category of symbols. In a symbolic view of the story, many concepts from the beginning of the story can be seen as private versus public and natural versus artificial symbolic implications such as the rain or the monument. Actually this symbolic imagery, hidden behind common objects, gives the story all its significance.

It goes without saying that there are natural/artificial symbols present in this story which stand in different poses from each other. From the opening lines of the story the good weather/bad weather binary opposition is apparent, and the bad weather and the rain is turning the couple into prisoners in their hotel room.

Also rain reminds us of fertility and the couple is childless and they refuse to go out in the rain and even George insists that her wife shouldn’t get wet and the maid is holding an umbrella for her so she won’t get wet in the rain. Another natural and the most dominant symbol in the story is the cat, which can be a manifestation of the protagonist’s (the American wife) desire.

In Lacanian terms the cat is an object petit a, the ever-present desire in all human beings which will never be fulfilled. Also the cat could be a symbol of a child which the couple lacks and to support the man/woman binary opposition George doesn’t feel the need to have that cat aka the baby, but his wife does and she doesn’t stop yearning for it. In another reading the flaw in this relationship may not wholly be George’s fault, he may just have another way of communicating and his wife also ignores his compliments “you look pretty darn nice”.

After all, at the end of the story she gets a cat, brought by the maid on request of the padrone which is not the first cat but is “a big tortoise-shell cat”. However, the important thing is that she finally gets something to take responsibility for.

Another symbol in the story is the war monument which supports the natural/artificial or nature/art. So far some natural symbols have been discussed, but the war monument is a symbol as well, it may represent Italian art, of which this American couple is ignorant. It may also stand for sterility.

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