Set on a rainy day in Italy, “Cat in the Rain” has an atmosphere of isolation and loneliness. The unnamed American wife is unable to find the companionship and emotional closeness she seeks from those around her—including from her husband George, despite that they are living in the same hotel room. To assuage her feelings of loneliness, she becomes fixated on getting a cat. Hemingway’s brief tale implicitly argues for the importance of connection through its exploration of the pain and desperation of isolation—which, it further suggests, can develop regardless of one’s physical proximity to another person.
The setting of the story itself mirrors the isolation of its characters. The wife and her husband are stuck inside their hotel room because of the rain. The room faces out onto the sea and a public garden, yet even looking out the window offers no comforting glimpse of other people; there are no artists out painting in the garden, as there would be in better weather, and the square on which the room faces is empty—no cars can be seen anywhere. The image of water standing “in pools on the gravel path” further imbues the landscape with a sense of stillness and desertion.
Even if there were others around, however, the story suggests that the husband and wife would remain isolated. They are notably the only two Americans staying at the hotel and do not know any of the other guests. This implicitly suggests their sense of alienation from those around them in this foreign country—they are strangers in a strange land. What’s more, as the husband contentedly retreats into a book, he leaves his wife alone to look out the window upon this wet, abandoned world, thereby deepening her feelings of solitude.
Indeed, the couple is not only isolated from those around them, but also from each other. The first image of the wife presented to the reader depicts her facing away from her spouse, who reclines on the bed reading. As she looks out the window, her physical position in relation to her husband echoes the emotional distance between them. The wife’s alienation from her husband is again emphasized when she returns to their room after failing to find the cat. Again, the wife does not look at George, but instead goes to the mirror to look at herself before proceeding to look out the window—effectively choosing to turn away from her lonely life and toward the world beyond, which perhaps offers the possibility of connection.
George is not sympathetic to her subsequent string of complaints and desires about wanting the cat, wanting new silver, and wanting it to be spring. He responds by saying, “Oh, shut up and get something to read.” This response affirms that George is unable to understand or connect to his wife’s emotional needs. It is no wonder that she feels estranged from him and never bothers to look at him directly. Nevertheless, the wife still clearly longs for connection with someone—a desire that manifests in the narrator’s statements about the hotel-keeper whom she meets when she descends to find the wet cat. The narrator states that the “wife liked him,” and “[s]he liked the way he wanted to serve her.” The narrator never communicates any such feelings of fondness on the part of the wife for her husband.
Yet her relationship to the hotel-keeper is also ultimately characterized by distance. When the wife goes downstairs, for example, he stands “behind his desk in the far end of the dim room.” He is physically separated from her—just as her husband had been upstairs. This distance between the woman and the hotel-keeper alludes to the fact that, regardless of her fondness for him, their relationship remains formal and remote; she can only interact with him in his professional capacity as the hotel-keeper.
These markedly cold relationships establish the wife’s desperate loneliness; she has no means by which to feel valued, needed, and close to another living creature. The woman, in turn, projects her own feelings onto the cat that she seeks to save from the rain. Looking out of the hotel window at the beginning of the story, the woman sees the cat alone, crouching under a dripping café table. That the cat’s trouble provokes her immediate sympathy suggests that she identifies with the animal’s isolation.
Significantly, the woman’s disappointment at not finding the cat when she goes to rescue it further highlights her need for some sort of intimate emotional contact and connection. She tells George that she “wanted [the cat] so much.” That she sought to overcome her own loneliness through her contact with the cat is implied in her statement to George that “I want to have a kitty to sit on my lap and purr when I stroke her.” This image of close, warm, physical touch again underscores the woman’s immense sense of isolation—a feeling she had hoped her contact with the animal would alleviate.
Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain” thus repeatedly highlights alienation as central to the American wife’s experience. In portraying her distance from her husband, the story further underscores the ways in which people can feel emotionally disconnected even from those with whom they are supposedly most intimate. Nevertheless, the need for close emotional contact and connection remains irrepressible. People will look for such connection anywhere—even if that means turning to a helpless cat caught in the rain.
Loneliness and Isolation ThemeTracker
Loneliness and Isolation Quotes in Cat in the Rain
Italians came from a long way off to look up at the war monument. It was made of bronze and glistened in the rain. It was raining. The rain dripped from the palm trees. Water stood in pools on the gravel paths…The motor cars were gone from the square by the war monument.
The American wife stood at the window looking out. Outside right under their window a cat was crouched under one of the dripping green tables. The cat was trying to make herself so compact that she would not be dripped on.
“I’m going down and get that kitty,” the American wife said… “The poor kitty out trying to keep dry under a table.”
With the maid holding the umbrella over her, she walked along the gravel path until she was under their window. The table was there, washed bright green in the rain, but the cat was gone. She was suddenly disappointed.
“Ha perduto qualche cosa, Signora?”
“There was a cat,” said the American girl.
“Sì, il gatto.”
“A cat?” the maid laughed. “A cat in the rain?”
“Yes,” she said, “under the table.” Then, “Oh, I wanted it so much. I wanted a kitty.”
When she talked English the maid’s face tightened.
As the American girl passed the office, the padrone bowed from his desk. Something felt very small and tight inside the girl. The padrone made her feel very small and at the same time really important.
“I want to pull my hair back tight and smooth and make a big knot at the back that I can feel,” she said. “I want to have a kitty to sit on my lap and purr when I stroke her.”
“Yeah?” George said from the bed.
“And I want to eat at a table with my own silver and I want candles. And I want it to be spring and I want to brush my hair out in from of a mirror and I want a kitty and I want some new clothes.”
“Oh, shut up and get something to read,” George said.