The ‘Lost Generation’ in Cat in the Rain by Ernest Hemingway

‘Cat in the rain’ is a short story that was published in 1925 and is set in the early years of the 20th century. In the years following the World War I, the upheaval of traditional social norms became a characteristic of this age. There is a breakdown of traditional notions of family and other social institutions, leading to individuals experiencing feelings of rootlessness and displacement. In this short story, the American and his wife traveling in Italy are representatives of those realities of the society.

The predicament of their dissolved relationship mirrors the reality of the institution of family due to the ill-effect of war. They have been uprooted from their comfortable ground and involuntarily confined into an unknown geographical location where they seemingly find no hope for future. Further, they cannot spend the life which they used to experience restricting their mobility. Though man is evidently adapted to the situation, the woman seems to be unable to live in the caged life. She keeps on complaining about the necessity to have an ordinary life as the other women. This feeling of lost in the generation who lost their roots due to the World War is reflected through the characters of the woman and the man.   

Ernest Hemingway belonged to what was called the ‘lost generation’ of writers who wrote in the aftermath of the First World War. The catastrophic effects of the war led to a loss of faith in religion, social institutions and traditional forms of family life.  In this story we see the state of the relationship between the American wife and her husband George. There appears to be no affectionate communication between them and they appear to have only a very superficial connection. The husband does not show much interest in the wife and this lack of attention is evidenced by the fact that the wife is pleased when the hotel owner shows concern for her well being. These are attentions that she apparently does not get from her husband.

The fact that emotions are not mentioned in the story is in many ways symptomatic of the fact that the characters too repress their emotions and do not honestly engage with their feelings. Especially the man seems to be emotionally – paralyzed: the only emotion shown by him is the anger. His predicament of inability to reveal his emotions mirrors the youth of the society in lost generation whose emotions are killed by the involvement in warfare. 

0n the contrary, the wife in the story craves for a touch of emotions from her counterpart. She appears to want greater value in her life and her outburst signifies these deeper longings:

‘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 front of a mirror and I want a kitty and I want some new clothes.’

Her desires reveal her necessity to lead an ordinary life: she needs to dine in the proper way, she likes it to have a better climate so that she can enjoy a picnic or a ride, she needs to be well dressed and attend a ceremonial function and above all she craves for a warm relationship. The reason they cannot have them is that they are rootless, they do not live in their comfortable zone or geographical location. Had they lived in their ordinary place, they could have spent a life of freedom.

Many critics have interpreted the woman’s desire to have a cat as the desire to have a child that would bring meaning to her life. However, this is a desire that she herself is unable to fully articulate as is evidenced when she says:

‘I wanted it so much,’ she said. ‘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 also important to note that the woman’s description of the cat is limited to ‘poor kitty’, a phrase that she keeps repeating over and over again with little variation.

That is another example of their lost hope about their future. They cannot have a child as they evidently do not have a secure future. The reason behind their lack of mutual connection probably must be that they are not complete as a family. The uncertain social condition has limited their potentiality as the smallest unit of the society.

Therefore, the story therefore highlights absence of open and honest communication in a relationship and the possible negative consequence when such communication is absent. War can affect people to develop mistrust among each and everyone in the society. This negative feeling can be penetrated into the family units making them unable to have an honest communication with each other.

The universal message given through the short story proves the saying that – the first thing killed by war is humanity. War creates physical destruction as well as psychological destruction. Though, physical wounds get healed, mental wounds take time to heal. In a post-war situation people lose their normal way of life and find it hard to adapt new situations. Hemingway through a single family unit reveals this universal truth using his ice burg theory.

The source information was taken from the Resource Guide for A/L by NIE. Therefore, we should thank the original writers for their great support.   

What is your idea about ‘the lost generation?’ Is this true to the society you live in? Leave a comment below to enrich this post. Share the post if you find it useful. Subscribe to the blog to receive our weekly blog posts in to your email inbox.

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