Role of Man and Woman in Hemingway’s Cat in the Rain
The Importance of Gender Roles in Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain”
Ernest Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain” depends heavily on subtle hints through imagery and character dialogue to communicate his intentions. As such, determining his purpose in writing the story is difficult to discern. There are countless theories concerning what the kitten, wife, husband, hotel owner, and maid represent within the story’s structure. On the surface, the story quite obviously centers upon a failing, unhappy relationship. The hypothesis that Hemingway was attempting to paint a picture of early twentieth century relationships and women’s struggle for identity in society is not untenable. However, upon further inspection I have concluded that Hemingway had greater aspirations when writing this short story. I believe he sought to tackle a social issue that was an interest of his from an early age. This issue is the stricture of gender roles imposed by society. Hemingway’s sharing of the book Psychology of Sex and discussion of “male and female roles,” with his wife serves as historical evidence of his interest in the subject of gender roles (Bennett). I hypothesize that the characters in Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain” serve as individual examples of the damage done by forced gender roles.
The first character of interest within the story is the nameless wife. Throughout the story, it is quite clear she is not happy with her relationship. When she states “I don’t know why I wanted it so much. I wanted that poor kitty. It isn’t any fun to be a poor kitty out in the rain,” it is clear she is longing for something she doesn’t quite understand and finds the kitten relatable to her life (Hemingway 2). She goes on to state more desires like her own, “table,” “silver,” “some new clothes,” and “to grow her hair out” (2). These seemingly simple desires reveal a lot about what the wife is meant to represent in the story. Like the kitten in the rain ineffectively seeking shelter, “under one of the dripping green tables,” the wife is seeking out a life of happiness with her own belongings and shelter from the reign of her oppressive husband. What the kitten represents is a life characterized by feminine, delicate qualities. What the wife does not realize is that the life she seeks, represented by the kitten, is actually a gender stereotype created by society. One that is fraught with ignorant innocence and frailty. Hemingway uses the wife to prove that striving for a life that is prescribed by society’s gender roles will not lead to happiness. The kitten is in the pouring rain just like the wife is, so neither is in better place.
The wife may be out in the rain, but she is the not the only one who suffers in the story. When she looks out the door of the hotel she notices, “A man in a rubber cape was crossing the empty square to the café” (1). This lonely traveler could have easily been left out of the story, but he wasn’t because he bears significance. He is out in the rain with the wife and kitten, struggling to find a life of happiness in a world that is attempting to cover him in a variety of labels. He helps introduce the idea that both men and women suffer from the strictures of gender roles. The husband, George, and the padrone help expand this concept of universal suffering.
George is quite obviously oppressive and downright rude to his wife. He makes his wife keep her hair, “clipped close like a boys” and flatly tells his wife to, “shut up” when she voices her desires (2). His apathy and despotic traits unapologetically ooze through his character. This is contrasted by the padrone’s “dignity” and desire “to serve” the wife (1). The dichotomous relationship between the padrone and the husband serves to intensify the wife’s covert sexual feelings for the padrone. He elicits a “…very small and tight…” feeling inside the wife that is comparable to sexual tension (2). The husband only drives the wife farther away with his aloofness. Despite, the importance of the padrone to the wife, he has minimal dialogue in the story. The wife also notes, “The padrone made her feel very small and at the same time really important” (2). This enigmatic statement is in itself contradictory. The padrone’s presence is omniscient throughout the story despite his brief appearance. The visceral energy he generates in the wife serves to keep the image of him clear in the reader’s mind. He is phantasmal in a way, rarely ever seen, but always present. With these details in mind, I believe Hemmingway used the padrone to illustrate the gender stereotypes associated with masculinity. He is noted as “tall,” and having “big hands,” making him physically virile (2). His demeanor is noted as “deadly serious,” and he is said to have “dignity” (2). This in combination with his ghostly presence produces an image that is merely an ideal. He contains the qualities of something imagined. He contains no spectrum of human emotion, but is reduced to a few masculine traits. This leads me to believe the padrone is a representation of the gender stereotypes associated with masculinity. He is an amalgam of wholly positive traits that creates a character of unreasonable standards for the average male. His existence is not physical, but still plagues men like George making them bitter with the defeat if not achieving society’s perception of man.
The characters in the Cat in the Rain could represent a variety of ideals depending on how the story is read. This leaves a lot of the interpretation up to the reader. This leads many people to paint Hemingway as a feminist in defense of women of the early twentieth century, like the American wife in the story. Others believe he is chauvinist for the inclusion of the oppressive husband, George, in the story. What I have discerned from Hemingway’s interests and textual examples is that he is neither a feminist nor chauvinist, but a humanist. If the characters are interpreted to represent the harmful effects of gender role stereotypes, a plethora of supporting textual examples are revealed. The wife is a downtrodden woman of the twentieth century, under the tyrannical reign of her gender role-imposing husband. She hopelessly strives to connect with the kitten in the rain, but fails to see that the fragile, gender stereotypical life the kitten represents. It is getting drenched in a flurry of society’s oppressive labels as well. The husband George is a product of the existence of the ideals represented by the padrone. The padrone’s inhuman nature is antagonistic to George’s being and fuels the venomous relationship he has with his wife. This interpretation makes it clear that Hemingway was a humanist demonstrating the harm of imposed gender roles in society.æ
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