Ernest Hemingway’s short story Cat in the Rain and Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour are both written near the turn of the twentieth century—the first in 1925, the second in 1894. Both of them are stories that are centered on the predicament of the wife. In Ernest Hemingway’s story, the wife is an American who is having a vacation with his husband in an Italian city and whose desire to save a cat from being trapped from the rain. In Kate Chopin’s story, the wife realizes that she has been trapped in her marriage and only realizes it when she learns that her husband dies.
The two characters are representatives of the women of the early twentieth century who share the predicament that Betty Friedan describes as the problem with no name. It is the complex emotional state of the wives who are mostly housekeepers that has to do with the mixed feelings of emptiness, dissatisfaction, incompleteness, desperation, boredom, and with no identity of one’s own. In this essay, I argue that the predicament of the two characters of the two stories is what Friedan calls the problem with no name. For the purpose of this essay, I call the problem the predicament of a trapped wife.
Trapped Wife Betty Friedan in her book The Feminine Mystique examines the lives of different housewives from different states in America and from different social standings during the first part of the twentieth century. She finds out that the wives share the same predicament she calls “problem with no name”: The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone.
As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night–she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question–“Is this all? ” (Friedan, Par. 1). During this time, women are expected to stay at home and be the housekeeper. A woman should take care of the children, satisfy the husband by being clean and beautiful and take care of the house chores. Some of the housewives that Friedan interviews say they feel empty and incomplete.
Some say they feel that they don’t exist. Many smother their feelings by tranquilizers. They cry without any reason. This must be a serious problem for women during those times. But as Friedan says, it is not given that much attention. The problem has “no name”. The problem may have no name but it is clear that the problem is an important feminist issue. As Friedan says: We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: “I want something more than my husband and my children and my home (Friedan, Par. 55). In the essay “Intimately Oppressed”, Howard Zinn shares the same concern as Betty Friedan.
He speaks of the “difficulties most women had to contend with in the isolated household” and the “general discontent with woman’s portion as wife, mother, housekeeper, physician, and spiritual guide, the chaotic condition into which everything fell without her constant supervision” (Zinn, Par. 113). The predicament of the wife that Friedan and Zinn describes I now call the problem of a trapped wife and what I focus on in my analysis of Hemingway’s Cat in the Rain and Chopin’s The Story of an Hour. Ernest Hemingway’s Cat in the Rain The wife in the story Cat in the Rain is not named.
She is the American wife while her husband is given a name, George. She and her husband are inside a hotel room. It is raining and the American wife is looking out of the window. She sees from the hotel window a cat that is hiding under a table to protect her from the rain, “The cat was trying to make herself so compact that she would not be dripped on” (Hemingway, Par. 2). The husband is reading in bed and when the wife says that she will get the cat, the husband tells her that he will get it himself but the husband does not move from the bed and continue on reading.
This implies that for the husband, the concern of the wife for the cat is not important. Much more important and deserving of his attention is the book that he is reading. The attention that the woman desires she gets not from her husband but from the hotel-keeper. The hotel-keeper recognizes the presence of the wife when the wife goes down to get the cat. The wife sees the hotel-keeper as sweet man and he shows concern to the wife by having the maid put umbrella over her head when she goes out in the rain (Hemingway, Par. 13). But even if the hotel-keeper sees her, she still feels the feeling of a trapped wife.
She feels like a little girl whose concern is immature (Hemingway, Par. 24). She does not know why she has an instant desire to save the cat from the rain but she is sure of what she is feeling that she wants to get the cat: “I wanted it so much. . . 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” (Hemingway, Par. 29). Hemingway is implying that the situation of the cat crouching under the table to hide from the rain is in a way also the situation of the wife. The wife is lonely and longing for someone who will take care of her.
But the husband does not really see her and her inner turmoil. In fact, throughout the whole story, the husband does nothing but to read the book and talk with his wife without really giving her his full attention. The only instance when he looks at his wife is when his wife starts asking him about her appearance (Hemingway, Par. 31-36). The husband looks only at his wife and gives her attention when it comes to her physical attractiveness. But when it comes to the wife’s desires, the man does not feel the anxiousness in the manner that she utters her desires.
The wife says she wants to have a cat, a long hair, a silver of her own and new clothes (Hemingway, Par. 40). To the husband, these are unimportant things: “’Oh, shut up and get something to read,’ George said. He was reading again” (Hemingway, Par. 41). George does not know the trapped feeling of her wife. He is not listening and he just continues to read the book. The wife is anxious because she is bored and unappreciated: “I want a cat. I want a cat now. If I can’t have long hair or any fun, I can have a cat” (Hemingway, Par. 43).
The wife in this story is the image of a trapped wife because she is trapped to her own seemingly immature concerns that hide a desire to be genuinely loved and be appreciated. She is trapped in this desire because her husband does not see what is behind the immature desires. The husband only sees the surface and thinks that the concern of the wife is shallow that it does not deserve his attention. But the woman’s desire is worthy because it is what she feels. What she feels is important. She does not understand it but it does not mean that it is not there. Chopin’s The Story of an Hour
The wife in Chopin’s The Story of an Hour is said to have a “heart trouble” (Chopin, Par. 1). This is the reason why the news of her husband’s death is announced to her as gently as possible by her sister, Josephine. From wife’s reaction to the news, we can say that she has been a trapped wife all those years that she is married. After her initial reaction of sadness, the wife senses a different feeling growing inside of her and she retreats to her room alone (Chopin, Par. 3). Inside the room, instead of feeling sorry for herself for losing a husband, she feels free: “”Free!
Body and soul free! ” (Chopin, Par. 15). The wife has been enduring the feeling of being trapped in her marriage and now that her husband is dead, she feels she has a new life. She sees the new life in the way that she sees her surroundings. When she looks at the trees, she sees the “new spring life”. When she senses the air, she feels the “delicious breath of rain”. She now hears those distant sounds that she does not hear before like the sound of someone singing and the sound of the sparrows (Chopin, Par. 5).
Instead of being sad for the man that she has lost, the wife celebrates the idea that she has all the years as a free woman: There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending her in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature (Chopin, Par. 13). This passage implies that she suffers being a trapped wife in the way that her husband is very domineering.
Her husband lives her life for her. She does not have any life of her own. Just like the wife in Hermingway’s Cat in the Rain, the individuality of the wife in this story is not appreciated by the husband. Instead, the husband imposes on her what she should like. The feeling of being trapped not being able to expose her true self is a terrible feeling the depth of happiness of the wife speaks so much about how difficult her marriage life have been. Now that her husband is dead, the wife recognizes that she can not direct her own life.
She can now be true to herself. She now possesses “self assertion” and sense of liberation from being a trapped wife causes the “strongest impulse of her being” (Chopin, Par. 15). She is done with enduring the terrible feeling of being a trapped wife: “There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory” (Chopin, Par. 20) But her happiness at being finally free and having the opportunity to start her life as a free woman is disrupted when her husband suddenly goes home. The news is wrong.
Her husband is alive and he does not even know that there is a train wreck and he does not know that reports say he is one of the casualties in the train wreck. The story ends in a bittersweet note: “When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease-of joy that kills” (Chopin, Par. 23). The doctors believe that she died because of her joy in seeing her husband who not really dead. But another way of interpreting it is that the wife dies not because of joy but because of the idea that she will not be free. She will be trapped again as a wife.
She cannot handle being a trapped wife again. It is that terrible that her heart does not endure the idea of the agony of being a trapped wife. Conclusion Women today are very lucky because they have more rights and freedom than the women who lived during the first half of the twentieth century. Women today have careers. They earn their own income. They are not expected to just stay at home and be a homemaker. Their lives do not revolve around their home, husband and children. They are more appreciated now and they are being listened to.
In 1900, it is impossible for a woman to aspire to be a President of America. But now, it is possible because things have changed for the women. Ernest Hemingway’s Cat in the Rain and Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour both tells us the terrible predicament of the wives during the early twentieth century. They are trapped in a marriage that expects them to concern themselves with the easy and girly stuff and expects them to have shallow concerns. The two women protagonists in the stories are representative of these women who struggled with the problem with “no name”.
If we take a look at our women today, we can say that they have gone far from the trapped housewives of the 1900’s to the self-made women that they are now.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. < http://www. wsu. edu:8080/~wldciv/world_civ_reader /world_civ_reader_2/chopin. html>. Friedan, Betty. “The Problem That Has No Name” The Feminine Mystique. Chapter 1. < http://www. h-net. org/~hst203/documents/friedan1. html>. Hemingway, Ernest. Cat in the Rain. < http://www. csua. berkeley. edu/~dxu/poetry/cat. html>. Zinn, Howard. “The Intimately Oppressed”. < http://historyisaweapon. com /defcon1/zinnint6. html>.