In Ernest Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain,” a woman’s yearning to bring a cat indoors becomes an embodiment of all her longing and desire. On a rainy day in Italy, the unnamed protagonist of the story, an American wife, spots a cat from the window of the hotel room she shares with her husband, George. Her sudden impulse to save the cat from the rain, however, is frustrated when she descends to the street only to discover that the cat has disappeared. Through this simple incident, the story delves into the discontent and disillusion that often haunt people’s ordinary lives. The world is indifferent to people’s whims, the story suggests, and thus even as longing and desire are fundamental human impulses, they inevitably end in frustration and disappointment.
At first, the woman’s desire seems simple and easy enough to fulfill. Upon seeing a cat taking shelter from the rain beneath a café table, the woman informs her husband that she will go downstairs to bring it indoors from the bad weather. In noting to her husband how “the poor kitty” is “out trying to keep dry under a table,” the protagonist seems to recognize the cat’s own frustrated desire to find shelter. It is significant that the cat’s predicament triggers the wife’s empathy, as this suggests that there is something about the animal’s plight with which she identifies.
When she goes out in the rain only to find that the cat has disappeared, however, the woman is “disappointed.” Instead of being glad that the cat has perhaps found a better shelter elsewhere, she is frustrated, telling the hotel maid who has followed her out with an umbrella that “she wanted [the cat] so much.” This moment reveals that, despite her feeling of kinship, the animal—perhaps representative of the larger world itself—is indifferent to her desire. In expecting to find the cat easily, the woman is left longing for something she can’t have.
The woman’s desire for the cat is, of course, about much more than the cat. Indeed, her disappointment over the disappeared animal awakens a whole host of other frustrated longings. After returning upstairs to the hotel room where her husband continues to read the paper, she examines herself in the mirror, and tells him that she wants to grow out her short hair. Her desire to transform her appearance is implicitly linked to a latent desire to transform her life; she not only wants a cat, she wants to change the way she looks, and she also adds that she wants her own silver. She even wishes it were spring—something decidedly out of her control. On the surface, the desires that the woman expresses are mundane, but they point to a deeper striving for radical and transformative change, which seems to be beyond reach.
At the end of the story, the woman does indeed get a cat. The attentive hotel-keeper, who had found out about her search earlier, sends up the hotel maid with a cat to give to her. This ending, however, is ambiguous. On the one hand, the woman’s longing for a cat seems to be on the brink of fulfillment: standing in front of her is the maid with an animal in her hands. On the other hand, it is not clear whether the cat that the maid presents is the same one that the woman had sought earlier. The reader is never given a description of the cat that the woman sees from the hotel window, while the cat that is brought up by the maid at the end of the story is described as a “big tortoise-shell cat.”
At the end of the story, the narrator doesn’t describe the woman as recognizing the cat—in fact, the story ends before the reader is given the woman’s reaction to the animal at all. Thus, there is the strong possibility that the hotel owner has simply found another cat to give to the woman. In this way, the story leaves the reader in the dark about whether the woman’s desire is in fact fulfilled or not. The woman gets a cat, but is it the cat she wants? By leaving open the possibility that it is not, the story reinforces the idea that, even in their fulfillment, people’s wishes may be frustrated. Whether the woman chooses to settle for this replacement animal—in a way, to accept her reality—remains left unsaid. The story also leaves open-ended the question of whether it is wiser to anticipate disillusionment, or to forever seek a (perhaps foolish) sense of personal fulfillment in an indifferent world. Either way, the woman’s frustrated desire for the cat in this story reflects the longing that all people experience at one point or another—a longing for more, and for better.
Longing and Disappointment ThemeTracker
Longing and Disappointment Quotes in Cat in the Rain
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.
“Don’t you think it would be a good idea if I let my hair grow out?” she asked, looking at her profile again.
George looked up and saw the back of her neck clipped close like a boy’s.
“I like it the way it is.”
“I get so tired of it,” she said. “I get so tired of looking like a boy.”
“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.
In the doorway stood the maid. She held a big tortoise-shell cat pressed tight against her and swung down against her body.
“Excuse me,” she said, “the padrone asked me to bring this for the Signora.”