A Discussion of the Significance of Binary Oppositions in Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain” Introduction “Cat in the Rain” is a short story by American author Ernest Hemingway, which was first published in 1925 as a part of the short story collection In Our Time. The story is about an American man and wife on vacation in Italy. In the biography Hemingway’s Cats, the author writes: “[“Cat in the Rain”] was a tribute to Hadley (Hemingway’s wife), who was dealing with the first year of marriage, the loneliness it entailed, and her deep desire for motherhood.
According to biographer Gioia Diliberto… Hemingway based the story on an incident that happened in Rapallo in 1923. Hadley was two months pregnant when she found a kitten that had been hiding under a table in the rain. ‘l want a cat,’ she [told Hemingway], ‘l want a cat. I want a cat now. If I cant have hair or any fun I can have a cat. ” David Lodge’s analysis of Hemingway’s short story “Cat in the Rain” shows that this is a symmetrical story consisting of several binary oppositions such as husband and wife, manager and wife, maid and wife, husband and maid, etc. According to Cuddon
Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, “the term ‘binary denotes ‘composed of two’, twofold’; as in a binary star, ‘one of a pair of stars held together by gravitation’. Language, too, has countless binary oppositions: up/down; slow/fast; sense/nonsense; truth/falsehood; black/white; man/woman – and so on. ” “Binary opposition originated in Saussurean structuralist theory. According to Ferdinand de Saussure, the binary opposition is the means by which the units of language have value or meaning; each unit is defined in reciprocal determination with another term, as in binary code.
It is not a contradictory relation but, a structural, complementary one. “l In this essay, binary oppositions are discussed and analyzed under five categories: gender, symbol, characterization, action, and local color. (1 . Fogarty, S, 2005, The Literary Encyclopedia) Gender In this story, we can consider men and women as binary oppositions, especially by differentiating between George and his wife who are an American couple. As we can see in the story, in comparison to George, the wife is a weaker person; she’s always new clothes) and she’s not satisfied with the things she has.
But in contrast, we see George lying down on the bed all the time, making himself busy with reading. George is indifferent to her wife’s being sad, and instead of consoling her, understanding her or trying to find a solution for her problems, he Just continues lying down on the bed indifferently and going on reading and even when she’s talking more about what makes her sad and what she wants, George insults her by telling her “Oh, shut up and get something to read”. The wife is a disturbed lonely woman that even her husband can’t understand and help her.
As a result when she receives respect, polite ehavior and understanding from the hotel keeper, it’s strange for her (and maybe new!!! Because her husband has never treated her like this) and she starts to like the hotel keeper. But as we all know, respecting the guests, understanding them and treating them politely is an inseparable part of being a hotel keeper if one wants to be a successful one. Symbol There are two kinds of symbols in the story; natural ones and artistic or cultural ones. The most important natural symbol is the cat.
As we can see in the story, the wife is not satisfied with her life and with her appearance. She’s sad about having short hair and looking like a boy. She doesn’t have anything in her life which can make her happy and give her an identity. So she tries to find something else on which she can hang. So we can imply that by helping the cat, she wants to think she’s important and she’s done something useful, so in this way she can feel good about herself. In another way, we can say that the cat is the symbol of fertility which is in contrast with the short hair that is the symbol of infertility.
Maybe the wife is sterile, so by looking after a cat, she wants to satisfy her maternal emotions. Another natural symbol can be good weather which is in contrast with bad/rainy weather. Good weather is the symbol of serenity and shows that there’s nothing wrong, but bad weather is the symbol of a bad situation when something is wrong. Rainy weather shows that the couple’s marital life is not in a good condition; they have a cold relationship with each other. The war monument is a cultural symbol in this story.
The tourists, including the American couple, traveled a long way there to see the war monument, but we see here, the American couple doesn’t care about the monument at all; George is always ying down on bed reading, and the wife is always thinking about what she doesn’t have in life. It’s ironical that they came this long way to see the war monument, but it is the only thing they don’t care about. Inside/outside can be a binary opposition. George always wants to stay inside and never wants to leave the room. Inside can be a symbol of passivity. George is a passive character.
But instead, the wife wants to go outside all the time; she wants to discover the unknown; she’s curious about the world outside, so we can say she’s an Characterization We can differentiate between the maid and the wife. The wife is apparently a caring person who even cares about lonely cats, but the maid, as we can see in the part in which she’s surprised by the fact that the wife is actually looking for a cat and she even laughs about it, is not so caring; she doesn’t think that a cat can be so important that a person goes after it in the rain.
She may not even really care about the wife, because in the part she goes after the wife to take her an umbrella, it is mentioned in the story that “Of course the hotel keeper had sent her”. Or at the end, when the aid brings the wife a cat, she says, “the padrone asked me to bring this for the Signora”. So we can conclude that she’s doing all this Just because of her Job tells her to do them. We can also differentiate between George and the hotel keeper. The hotel keeper is a responsible and active person. He’s so alert about his guests and their needs and wishes.
Whenever he sees the wife, he stands up and bows to her as a sign of respect. He sends the maid to take an umbrella for the wife, although it’s not his Job to do that. At the end of the story, he sends the maid to take a cat for the wife; e could not do that, because it is not his responsibility to find a cat for her, but he did, because he cares about the wife. But in contrast, we see that the wife’s own husband doesn’t care about her; he’s a passive and negligent person. He’s not doing anything more than reading and he doesn’t do anything for her wife to relieve her.
Action George is lying down reading all the time, but the wife is always moving from one place to the other (from the hotel room to the street and from there back to the hotel room, and even in the room, she goes to the dresser to see herself in the hand irror) and talking all the time (she talks to her husband, to the maid, to the hotel keeper). George is a passive character who doesn’t do anything special in the story, but in contrast the wife is so active; she’s always talking and going from somewhere to the other.
She wants to do something all the time; (sometimes it is talking to other people, sometimes it is going out to find a cat) because she’s not satisfied with her life, with her appearance and with the things she has. She wants to be different, to have different things; she wants to own something so she could feel important, atisfied and useful. Maybe she’s fghting in a patriarchal society to prove her femininity. Local Color There’s a binary opposition here between Italian and English language and between Italian and American culture.
The couple is American and they speak English, but the maid and the hotel keeper are Italians and they speak Italian most of the time; they can speak English, too. The American couple can speak a little Italian and sometimes respect each other’s language by speaking Italian sometime and speaking English at the other time. George is an American man who’s negligent of his wife and the hotel eeper is an Italian man who respects women and cares about them to a great extent.
As we can see in the story, many Italians came there to see the war monument, but the American couple doesn’t care about it at all. Conclusion All the categories of binary oppositions which discussed here are deeply interrelated and directly or indirectly are aimed to magnify the man/woman binary opposition. So it can be concluded that the thematic core of the story is the opposition between man and woman and what Hemingway is trying to do is showing a couple’s problems in their married life by making use of some binary oppositions.