Everybody knows cats hate water—so what do they do when it rains? Apparently, they shiver and cower in the driest place they can find. Must be pretty lonely. They just can't get a break.
Hemingway first published "Cat in the Rain" in 1925 as part of a short story collection, In Our Time. He wrote it while living in Paris with his first wife, Hadley, but the story's setting in the small Italian town was clearly influenced by his time in Italy as a Red Cross worker during World War I.
This story is a prime example of the clean, lean writing style that he was developing in this period. Every word means something, every image is there for a reason, and each punctuation mark is important. This is a story that is not going to waste your time…and one that you'll probably spend more time thinking about than reading. This story is efficient, like the literary version of a Smart car—you know, those really tiny electric cars that look like little bugs.
It's set in a hotel on the Italian coast and takes place on a rainy day as an American couple hangs out in their hotel room. The story is about a woman who spots a cat in the rain. And that's it.
Come to think of it, not that much happens, does it?
Hemingway consistently stays on the surface of things, rarely writing anything "deeper" than what a character does or says—but it's this commitment to staying on the surface, to giving only the "tip of the ice-berg" look at what's going on, that Hemingway took most seriously as a writer. He may not articulate the feelings and frustrations in that hotel room, but we sure do feel them. Each action has a bulk of unspoken meaning beneath it and it's your job to dive down into and explore. Enjoy—oh, and don't get too wet…
If you have ever known what it's like to feel something deeply, to want something very much, but not be able to name it…then you should care about this story.
Hemingway's tip-of-the-iceberg style of writing is powerful in all of his stories, but here it is especially important. We watch what happens when someone wants something, but doesn't know exactly why she wants it. The wife wants things like long hair, a cat, and silver, but in the end, all of that wanting simply suggests that she is unhappy in her marriage. She likes a lot of things about the padrone (his hands, his demeanor), but all of that liking has to do with the way he makes her feel: alive and wanted.
Is the wife aware of these bigger, deeper feelings and desires? Not really, but Hemingway makes us aware of them and makes us realize the way in which all of our wants are just the frosty iceberg tips of deeper, larger desires.
What kinds of things do you want? Do you keep a running list of things you want to buy? Why do you want to buy them? What do you imagine will happen once you get them?
If you're looking for a well-organized and easily navigable site on all things Hemingway, this is the place for you.
Hemingway as Nobel Prize Winner
This is the website for the Nobel Prize in literature, no big deal or anything. It's got some clear, concise information on the writer's life and how he was received in his day. It's also interesting to look at the writers who won the award before and after Hemingway won it in 1954.
The Hadley Tapes
While it's important to take Hemingway's biographical influences on this story with a grain of salt, this is a fascinating site on some recently discovered information on Hemingway and his first wife Hadley's marriage.
Not quite how we pictured it, but what do you think?
Cat in the Rain