Gender Bias: ‘Cat in the Rain’ by Ernest Hemingway and ‘Sweat’ by Zora Neale Hurston
Both short stories contain abundant instances of gender bias. To be more accurate, the gender bias witnessed in these stories is so pronounced and persistent that it is fair to call them misogyny. In Cat in the Rain, the victim is an American girl who is married to a man indifferent to her wishes and needs. In the case of Sweat, Sykes is the abusive husband of Delia who pushes her to dire desperation. Though these two short stories carry the themes of gender bias and misogyny, they are conveyed through different literary devices. This essay will explain how gender bias is expressed in these two stories and will briefly analyze their socio-historical implications.
Cat in the Rain by Ernest Hemingway is a compact story that packs a punch. Known for his concise prose, each word of this 500-word story is weighted with significance. The story is about an outwardly casual conversation between an American and his wife vacationing in Italy. The girl is discontent about something in her life though she does not articulate it precisely. She complains that she is not having ‘fun’ having stuck up in their hotel room due to torrential rains outside. She sees a kitten hiding under a table in the cafe and tells her husband that she wants it. This could be interpreted as her subconscious need for a baby. But her husband hardly pays any attention to what she is saying and continues reading his book. There are a few other instances in the story where he rebukes her wishes and trivializes them. These are clear cases of gender bias if not outright misogyny. It is a fitting conclusion to the story that it is the empathetic and understanding Italian hotel-keeper who offers her the kitten she so liked (Hemingway, “Cat in the Rain”). Hemingway is suggesting here a possible pregnancy through an extramarital affair. It is not such a shocking conclusion given the indifference and neglect shown by the husband toward the girl. The hotel-keeper, though only remotely connected to the girl, displays a far better understanding of her psychology and wants. On the other hand, her husband, even after cohabiting with the girl for many months, is unable to understand her. More disappointingly, he ignores and insults her through his verbal put-downs that make her suffering more acute (Hemingway, “Cat in the Rain”).
In Sweat, Delia is an emotionally and physically abused wife of Sykes. The latter has no employment, yet he spends the hard-earned money of his wife as his own. He also keeps mistresses and pampers them with gifts. Despite Delia’s protests and demands to be more kind to her, he abuses and threatens her even more. Not only does Sykes keep a mistress (Bertha), but he insults Delia by openly roaming the town with Bertha. He boasts of his frequent ‘stomps’ with Bertha, which are late-night revelry in bars and clubs. Alongside this emotional abuse, there is the constant put-down of Delia by pointing to how skinny she is. In a dark irony, it is Sykes’ very abuse that has reduced a once attractive Delia to the disheveled physical state later (Hurston, “Sweat”). So there is no logic in his accusations. If such blatant misogyny is not enough, Sykes does not even show any humanitarian tendency toward his wife. He repeatedly scares her with snakes knowing her petrified fear for reptiles. This pattern of behavior comes to a climactic setting when Sykes brings home a six-foot rattle snake and keeps it in a basket next to the kitchen window. It is a fitting end that his plan to threaten Delia from not leaving him eventually backfires, and he is bitten by the same snake. Delia deliberately ignores his dying calls for help (Hurston, “Sweat”). This is justified in the context of all the injustice she was meted out by him.
In conclusion, both stories are centered on the theme of gender bias and ill-treatment of women. These texts would prove to be central to feminist discourse during the second half of the twentieth century. The two stories serve as snapshots of what generations of voice-less women endured when they had not rights on par with men. Delia and the American girl are victims in their own ways – Delia more so than the American. Though shocking to the modern reader, their stories were not atypical for the ages they lived in. But today the situation has improved. The freedoms and rights enjoyed by women can be credited to bold socially-conscious literature such as The Cat in the Rain and Sweat.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Cat in the Rain”. English Subject Center. The Higher Education Academy. N.d. Web. 25th July. 2013.
Hurston, Zora Neale. “Sweat”. English Literature Texts. Washington State University. Web. N.d. 25thJuly. 2013.
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