On the surface, this is a simple story about an American couple spending a rainy afternoon in a hotel room during an Italian holiday. However, in typical Ernest Hemingway style, there is a lot more to the story than the words on the page. The wet weather and an empty square outside the hotel reflect the couple’s relationship, and different readers will see different reasons for the problems between them.
English Learner Vocabulary Help
There are also four words that are in our Pre-Intermediate word list but have a meaning in the story which is different to the one most commonly used:
- The sea broke in a long line in the rain. The word has many different meanings depending on the thing being broken. If a wave breaks, it falls onto itself in a mass of small air bubbles on or near land.
- We are told that there were no cars in the square next to the war monument. This refers to a , which is an open area where people can meet.
- As the woman went looking for the cat in the rain, her husband was lying back on two pillows at the foot of the bed. The of a bed is the part opposite to where the head goes (i.e. the part where you put your feet when you sleep).
- Later, the woman says to husband: “I’m tired of looking like a boy.” She is not feeling sleepy. In this case the word d means to be bored by or stop being interested in something.
General Comments on the Story
According to the book Hemingway’s Cats (which also talks about the women in his life), this story is based on a true event in 1923 when Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, found a kitten that had been hiding under a table in the rain. Hemingway had always said that this was not the case. In a 1925 letter to fellow writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, he wrote that the story was about a “Harvard kid and his wife” whom he had once met in Genoa. However, sometimes people deny things that are too close to the truth. Hemingway and Hadley’s marriage was falling apart at the time the story was written. And this is certainly a story about a relationship in trouble.
Let’s look at some adjectives that might describe the couple:
1. The husband:
- Thoughtless and uncaring: He seems to care more about the book he is reading than his wife. Although he at first offers to get the cat, he readily agrees to let her do it.
- Dominating: The woman feels that because he likes her hair the way it is, she is not allowed to grow it longer. (“If I can’t have long hair or any fun, I can have a cat.”)
- Cold and physically indifferent towards his wife: There is a possible turning point in the story where he could have responded to her needs but did not (see below).
2. The wife:
- Childish, possibly much younger than her husband: The word “kitty” is a childish term for a cat. When she is in the room, Hemingway refers to her as “the wife”; when she is outside the room, he refers to her as “the girl”.
- Materialistic and demanding: “I want…, I want…, I want…”
- Bored and dissatisfied with her life and the relationship: She spends a lot of time looking out the window. The desire for the cat could suggest a wish for a child or someone to love. She is not happy with the way she looks and attracted to the padrone (hotel-keeper), who she sees as a stronger, more caring man.
The Turning Point
The story describes an empty relationship, and Hemingway leaves it to the reader to decide the reasons. It is told from a third person limited point of view. We are given some information about what the woman is thinking, but nothing about the man’s thoughts. These (the husband’s) thoughts are important in understanding the main cause of the problems in the relationship.
For me, the climax of the story takes place when George says the words: “You look pretty darn nice.” His wife had been talking about her appearance as she examined her face and hair in the mirror. We are told that George had shifted his position in the bed and hadn’t looked away from her since she started to speak. Something had got his interest.
In English, as in many languages, the way you say something can convey more meaning than the words themselves. If George had spoken these words as a plain, polite response, he is guilty of not recognizing his wife’s needs and perhaps no longer being attracted to her. However, if spoken in a deeper voice than normal with stress on the “darn nice”, the words could be taken as a compliment and perhaps even an invitation for love making. The wife doesn’t sense a compliment. She puts down the mirror, walks over to the window rather than the bed, and starts talking about all the things she wants. This makes George angry. He tells her to “shut up and get something to read,” then goes back to his book. One of them has just spoiled their day.
(n: bench pl benches) A long and usually hard seat for two or more people. 3000
(v: bow, bows, bowed, bowing) To bend the upper part of the body forwards in greeting someone or showing respect etc. 3000
(n: candle pl candles) Wax that has been formed into a stick or another shape and has a string in the middle that can be burned to give light. 3000
(v: knock, knocks, knocked, knocking) To make a loud, sharp noise by hitting or tapping something [especially a door to get someone to open it]. 1000
(n: madam pl madams) A term used to politely speak to a woman who you do not know or who has a high rank or position. 2000
(n: maid pl maids) A female servant, especially a woman or girl who does cleaning work in a house or hotel. 4000
(n: manner pl manners) 1. The way that something is done or happens. She greeted me in a friendly manner. 2. The way in which a person normally behaves, speaks etc. I don't like her manner.
(n: manners, plural) Behavior while with other people; knowledge of how to behave politely while with other people. His children have excellent manners. Some people have no manners. 3000
(n: monument pl monuments) Something built in memory of a person or event, eg a building, statue etc. 6000
(v: stroke, strokes, stroked, stroking) To rub gently and repeatedly in one direction along or over something, especially as a sign of affection. (ลูบ)
(n: pl strokes) One of a series of repeated movements of your arms in swimming or rowing that you make to move you or the boat through the water. (พายจังหวะ) 3000
(adj: tight, tighter, tightest) 1. Fitting very or too closely; [of clothes] fitting very close to your body. These shoes are too tight. (คับแน่น) 2. Flat or firm from being pulled or stretched; not loose. Pull the ribbon tight and make a bow. (ผูกแน่น) 3. Fastened, attached, or held in a position that is not easy to move. The lid is too tight. I can't open it. (แน่นหนา) 2000
(adv: tightly) In a tight way. The shirt fits too tightly around the arms. Hold on tightly to the railing. (แน่น)
(v: break, breaks, broke, broken, breaking) The word 'break' has many special meanings for when things change: 1. [of the weather] To change by becoming rainy, clear, cool, etc., after a long time. 2. [of a storm] To start suddenly. 3. [of clouds] To separate so that the sky or sun can be seen. 4. [of a wave] To fall onto itself in a mass of very small air bubbles on or near land. 5. [of someone's voice] To change sharply in tone or pitch because of strong emotion. 6. [of a boy's voice] To change from the high voice of a boy to the lower voice of a man. 1000
(n: town square pl town squares) An open public space commonly found in the heart of a traditional town that is used for community gatherings, markets, etc. (ตึกที่มีถนนสี่ด้าน)
Town squares are often surrounded by buildings, small shops, cafes, etc. and may also be known as a market square, public square, piazza, plaza, or town green.
(n: foot pl feet) 1. The part of the leg on which an animal or person stands and moves;: the part of the leg below the ankle. 2. The lowest part of something or the part opposite to where the head goes. The foot of the bed/hill/stairs. 3. A British measure of length equal to twelve inches or 30.48 cm. 1000
(v: tire, tires, tired, tiring) 1. To (cause to) lose energy and begin to feel that you need to rest; to become tired. I tired long before the race was over. 2. To become bored by something; to stop being interested in something. He soon tired of doing the same work every day. (ทำให้เหนื่อย)
(adj: tired) Feeling a need to rest or sleep. (เหน็ดเหนื่อย) I felt tired long before the race was over. 2000
(n: tire pl tires; British tyre) A rubber ring that usually contains air and that fits around the wheel of a car, bicycle, etc. The tyres of this car don't have enough air in them. (ยางรถ) 3000