Like a great majority of writers, Ernest Hemingway used literature to understand what it means to be a human being. His answer was both critical and disillusioned. Perhaps his main discovery was that we are part of time and that the states in which we live never last long. Hemingway was concerned with what could be called the fate of our desires. This article will study the mechanics of desire and identity in a very short story, “Cat in the Rain.” The approach will not be biographical, except for its starting point. The story was written when the writer was staying at the Hotel Splendid in Rapallo, Italy, and steadily becoming estranged from his wife Hadley. Strangely enough, the story portrays a most unsympathetic husband… In fact, Hemingway shows himself highly critical of male traditional complacency. As it is, the story can be read as a fundamental question: what are the implications of this crisis in which a woman starts questioning her desire and her identity. Hemingway will often return to these questions in his fiction. His interrogation will find its culmination with the description of the daring sexual and mental experiments initiated by Catherine Bourne in The Garden of Eden. It seems thus important to look closely at Hemingway’s diagnosis: in what way are desire and identity inextricably bound up with time?
I. Time and Identity
· 1 The problem was obviously important for Hemingway. In the same collection, he also raises it in “Ou (...)
2To summarize the diagnosis Hemingway offers in “Cat in the Rain,” it could be said that the problem is: what is identity? The answer is: it is inseparable from desire, and the tool needed to reach the answer is an understanding of our position as social animals. Unquestionably, the couple is undergoing a crisis, at least from the point of view of the wife. George, the husband, as far as he is concerned, has taken possession of the two pillows and the bed… It could then be said that identity is a question. It is the question we ask ourselves when precisely we understand that our usual sense of identity has only been an illusion.1 People who are sure of their identity do not ask that type of questions, which does not mean that they have an identity… The husband doesn’t ask the question. Life for him just goes on. Judging from what the text says, for him, it is only a series of mechanical habits, reading during the day, presumably eating and sleeping. Should we add sex? That seems to be one of the problems facing the two spouses. The “wife,” as for her, suddenly becomes a “girl,” and she symbolically feels compelled to look at herself in the mirror on the dressing table. She cannot identify with what she sees. Hemingway knows that identity is a problem bound up with our imagination. It is an image, a mental fiction which we construct and into which we project ourselves. In the mirror, the girl/wife sees herself the way she would like to look in the future, that is to say with long hair. That image...