Notes on Cats

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  • Topic: Cats, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, Characters in Cats
  • Pages : 12 (4496 words )
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  • Published : March 12, 2013
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Old Possum’s book of Practical Cats
The Naming of Cats," at its most basic level, talks about how cats have three different names.  However, at a deeper level, the poem talks about identity and how people present themselves in different ways to the general public, to their family and friends, and to their most private self when they are alone. In the poem, the first name a cat possesses is an "everyday" name that any observer can use: First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,

Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey--
All of them sensible everyday names.
While some of these everyday names might be "fancier ... some for the gentlemen, some for the dames," they are, nevertheless, "all of them sensible everyday names."  This is the "self" we let everyone see - our most public self. However, the poem's speaker says one name is not enough.  Cats also need a name that is ...  ... particular,

A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
This is a more individual name, a name that "never belong(s) to more than one cat."  It recognizes the uniqueness that is that cat.  This is the self we let our friends and family see - one that reveals some of our own uniqueness - our personal traits, talents, desires, likes, and dislikes. However, even that name does not represent the cat at its deepest essence.  That name is known only by the cat:  The name that no human research can discover--

But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
This is the self we only let ourselves see, our truest self, with our hidden desires, fears, dreams, beliefs, doubts, and concerns. As for style, the poem is written in anapest tetrameter, with the accent (primarily) on every THIRD syllable (as marked in bold below): You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter

When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James ...
The poem follows an every-other-line rhyme scheme of  ABABCDCDEFEF, and so on.  It makes an allusion to the Mad hatter from Alice in Wonderland, and also uses a lot of personification as it talks about cats.  This is especially seen in the following passage: But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,

A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Here, we see the cat from a very human perspective; it desires to be seen with dignity so it can maintain its pride. Eliot also uses repetition and a made-up word, "effanineffable," at the end: His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation

Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
This repetition of the phrase "of the thought" leaves the reader, as well as the cat, in "a rapt contemplation/Of the thought ... of his name" and of the multiple levels of his identity.

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats Topics for Discussion
How do the personalities of cats differ from the personalities of dogs? How has language changed since Eliot wrote this book?
Do you think that the Practical Cats are really character studies of people? Have you ever met someone who was like one of the Practical Cats? If so, which one, and in what way? What are the differences between Gumbie Cats and Jellicle Cats? Describe the similarities between Mr. Mistoffelees and Macavity. Do you think Griddlebone was working as a secret agent for Macavity in "Growltiger's Last Stand?" Describe the similarities and differences between Old Deuteronomy and Gus the Theater Cat. * -------------------------------------------------

1. Each of the Cats is so thorough a blend of human and feline characteristics that Angela Richards, who played Grizabella in the...
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