Figaro introduces himself as a clever, sophisticated “cat of the world.” One evening a young man throws two boots out the window and Figaro puts them on. The young man notices this and summons “Puss” up to his window. Figaro performs some acrobatics on his way up to the windowsill, and the young man offers him a sandwich and some brandy. The young man is poor but handsome, and Figaro takes a liking to him. He becomes the man’s “valet,” helping him in schemes of moneymaking and love.
After the solemn previous stories, “Puss-in-Boots” is the first to take a lighthearted, comedic tone, though it still deals with many of the same themes as the rest of the book. The fairy tale of Puss-in-Boots involves a clever, boot-wearing cat who helps his master gain fortune.
Figaro and the young man (now his master) are both clever daredevils, and they work together to cheat at dice and seduce women. Then one day the master falls in love and seems suddenly struck dumb. The object of his desire is a young woman who is closely guarded by her rich old husband (Signor Panteleone) and a “hag” who is her keeper. The young woman is only allowed to look out the window for one hour a day, and when she goes out to Mass she has to wear a veil.
Figaro is like the “valet” of the earlier stories (though his master is not wealthy and powerful), now given his own voice and story. As a sentient, human-like cat he is also another metamorphic, fantastical creature. The young woman is like the virginal heroines of the other stories, though not given her own voice – beautiful, innocent, and treated as an object.
The master had fallen in love at only a glimpse of the young woman’s face, and Figaro describes how it happened. One Saturday night the cat and his master stayed up so late that they were coming home as people were going to church, and “Puss” rubbed up against the young woman’s leg. She briefly petted him and lifted her veil, and at the sight of her smile the master fell in love. The “hag” sneezed at Figaro’s presence, however, and quickly bustled the young woman away.
The young woman must wear a veil and only go about with her “keeper,” as she is just another possession for her husband to hoard. Once again the male figure (the master) is much more sexually experienced, but the master does not have the wealth, power, or abusive nature of some of the fairy-tale men.
Figaro describes the many women his master has slept with, but the master has never said “love” until now. The master now seems sick and lives only for Sunday mornings, when he can have a glimpse of his veiled beloved at church. Figaro is bored by this sudden change, and he resolves to help his master seduce the young woman, hoping that after they’ve slept together the master will snap out of his trance.
The master has undergone a kind of “metamorphosis” in changing his libertine nature for the sake of love. Figaro could be compared to the Beast’s spaniel in "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon", wishing his master would turn back into a lion.
Figaro finds Signor Panteleone’s cat, a female tabby, who informs him that Panteleone is miserly and impotent, and guards his kind young wife like he does his fortune. He leaves the house one day a week to go cheat the poor out of their rent, but the “hag” is always at home, and allergic to cats. The tabby promises to deliver a letter to her mistress, though, if Figaro’s master will write one.
We learn the details of just how objectified the young woman is. Even though she is married she is still a virgin, as her husband is impotent, so she has both the special power and innocence of virginity, like the other heroines.
The master spends three hours laboring over a perfect love letter (ten pages long), and the tabby delivers it, informing Figaro that her mistress wept over it and promised to love its writer unless he was old or “ugly as sin.” The woman sends a return letter asking to meet and “discuss his passion further.” The master kisses her letter ecstatically and decides to serenade her that night when she looks out the window.
Figaro’s lighthearted voice mocks the brief and dramatic “courtship” of many of the stories, where two characters can fall in love after a single conversation (or even being kidnapped, like the heroine and The Beast). While Figaro mocks his master’s love, he himself is falling for the tabby.
Figaro and his master go off to the piazza with a guitar and the master plays under the young woman’s window, but she doesn’t notice. The master sends Figaro up to get her attention. Figaro notices that the tabby is watching him, and he performs some difficult acrobatics on his way up and then tells the young woman to look below. On his way back down Figaro lands “the death-defying triple somersault,” impressing the tabby.
The tabby is also a talking cat – though this is one of the more comedic and less fantastical stories, it still has magical elements that are accepted as part of reality.
The master starts to sing a heartfelt song and the young woman looks down. She smiles for just a moment, but then the hag slams the window shut. That night Figaro and his master have little to eat, but the master is overjoyed at his success. After he falls asleep Figaro sneaks off to meet with the tabby, who comes up with a plan to unite the two young lovers. The tabby will catch some rats and scatter them about the house, and the master and Figaro will wait outside posing as rat-catchers. The hag hates rats, so when she sees them she will go out into the street and immediately hire the duo and bring them inside.
The relationship of the master and the young woman is hilariously superficial at first, but the young woman is clearly desperate to be seen as anything other than an object to be hoarded. Even though Puss-in-Boots is supposed to be the clever cat hero, it is actually the tabby who comes up with most of the good plans to unite the master and the young woman. Again Carter subverts the tale with greater female agency.
The master is excited by this plan and agrees to it. He puts on a fake moustache and makes a sign as “Signor Furioso, the living death of rats.” He has to turn away several attempted customers before the hag appears, screaming. She immediately ushers the two inside, sneezing at Figaro and saying the rats are in her mistress’s room. They all go into the young woman’s room and the master pretends there is a big hole in the floor under the bed. The young woman sends the terrified hag away, promising to guard her possessions.
The young woman’s bedroom is the “bloody chamber” of this story, as the site of both violence and sexual transformation. At first the violence is just the dead and dying rats, and the transformation the first meeting of the master and young woman, where she loses her virginity and discovers love for the first time.
As soon as the hag leaves, the young woman locks the door and the master removes his moustache. They approach each other shyly at first but then start having sex, and Figaro yowls to cover up the noise. The suspicious hag comes in just after they are finished, and to explain the rumpled bed and virginal blood the young woman says “Puss” killed a big rat in the bed. The woman then asks the fee for the master’s “services,” and Figaro says a hundred ducats. The hag complains about this, but the young woman tells her to pay with the money she’s “skimmed off the housekeeping.”
Though the young woman’s excuse for the bloody sheets is a comic device, it also deftly relates the themes of sexuality and violence. The loss of virginity is a kind of violence, just like Figaro killing a giant rat. The bedroom will become a more sinister “bloody chamber” later, but even in this first meeting it is the place where sex is juxtaposed with violence (Figaro attacking and killing the rats).
Figaro and his master leave with their pockets full, but at dinner the master is still dissatisfied, as he wants the young woman to be his forever. Figaro sees that his plan hasn’t worked – the master hasn’t gotten over his love by having sex – and he grows bored at the master’s dramatics, but resolves to help him with his cunning. Figaro goes out to meet the tabby, who he is rapidly falling in love with himself, and asks her about the details of Signor Panteleone’s routine.
Figaro is still wanting his old “wild” life back (the animal half of his metamorphic nature), though he himself is becoming “domesticated” by his love of the tabby. The master wants to totally change his life for the sake of the young woman.
The tabby says that Signor Panteleone spends his days counting his money and cheating the poor, and his nights guarding with his “prize possession” of a wife, though he is impotent. He is rich as “Croesus,” and the two cats come up with a plan to take his fortune and wife – the tabby will trip him so that he falls and dies. Figaro returns home and tells his master to purchase a doctor’s outfit and make another sign. The master asks about the plan but Figaro doesn’t reveal the details.
The phrase “rich as Croesus” recalls the Marquis, and Signor Panteleone is another kind of womanizer, though a less brutal one. He still views his wife as an object, just an object to be hoarded, not tortured. The tabby takes the leadership role in the scheming. The master keeps undergoing “transformations” into different characters for the sake of his love.
The next morning the two go out in the street, and again the master has to turn away customers as he waits. Soon the hag comes bursting out the door, telling the “doctor” that her master has taken a fall. They go inside and see Signor Panteleone dead at the foot of the stairs. The master confirms his death and they carry Panteleone up to the young woman’s room and put him on the bed. The young woman then sends the hag away, promising her some money from Panteleone’s will.
Though Figaro’s tone remains comedic and frivolous, the story actually takes a more sinister turn now as they all scheme to murder Panteleone. This is part of the violence in the theme of sexual violence that appears in even this lighthearted story. In another poignant image, the corpse occupies the bed where the woman lost her virginity.
The hag rushes off excitedly and immediately the young lovers are “at it, hammer and tongs,” having sex on the carpet while the dead Panteleone is still on the bed. Meanwhile Figaro opens all the windows and then the tabby comes in, looking pregnant. Figaro decides then to give up his “rambling days” and settle down with the tabby.
This is the potent image of this story’s bloody chamber, as the two lovers have sex on the floor while Panteleone’s body is in the bed. Their love story also involves assisting in murder. Figaro undergoes his own metamorphosis in becoming “domesticated.”
The hag returns with an undertaker as the master and the young woman are still “occupied.” The hag shrieks in rage but the young woman sends her away, promising her some gold and informing her that the master will be her new husband. When the hag learns she will indeed inherit some money she immediately goes off quietly. The master and the young woman then inherit the rest of Panteleone’s fortune and get married, and the tabby and Figaro have a litter of kittens. Figaro – “Puss-in-Boots” – then wishes the reader good fortune and bids farewell.
As in many of the stories, “Puss-in-Boots” ends with the heroine receiving a fortune from her dead husband. She now has all the power she was denied before, and uses it to banish her objectifying “keeper.” Both the master and Figaro have been “tamed,” transforming their natures for the sake of love.