I Am a Cat
by Natsume Soseki

Synopsis

This synopsis will contain spoilers!

I am a Cat is a difficult book to summarize for several reasons. First of all, while characters, themes, and certain activities are consistent throughout the work, there is no overarching narrative. In the introduction, the translator notes that it could be considered 11 separate short stories. Furthermore, even within each of the 11 chapters, often very little will happen because the observations the nameless cat makes are meant to illuminate and parody human nature, not to tell a story. With this in mind, I will attempt to summarize each chapter as though it were a separate short story, with your understanding the it is impossible for me to really capture what is happening in the book. Also, I apologize for the length.


Volume I Chapter 1: We meet our narrator, the cat, who born a stray comes across the house of a school teacher. After repeatedly being thrown out by the house maiden, the master of the house eventually says he can stay. We meet Waverhouse, the aesthete, who encourages the master to pursue sketching. In the end, it turns out the encouragement Waverhouse gave was simply an elaborate joke he was playing upon the master. At the end of the chapter, the cat resolves to remain nameless and to live in this house for all his days.


V. I Ch. 2: The cat has become a celebrity, and several postcards and visitors (such as the scientist Coldmoon) arrive to see the cat. In this chapter, the cat records 4 truths while attempting to eat a rice cake: 1. "that golden opportunity makes all animals venture to do even those things they do not want to do." 2. "that all animals can tell by instinct what is or is not good for them" 3. "that in conditions of exceptional danger one can surpass one"s normal level of achievement" and 4. "all comfort is achieved through hardship". His attempts to eat the rice cake fail when his head is stuck in the bowl, and he ends up dancing around the kitchen on two legs - much to the amusement of the family. The cat also meets Tortoiseshell, a pretty cat that leaves nearby. Waverhouse plays another practical joke on the master when he sends him a letter that proposes that the master could heal his ailing stomach by taking up the Roman strategy of vomiting after every meal. At the end of the chapter, Tortoiseshell dies, and the nameless cat is blamed by her master.


V. I Ch. 3: Coldmoon gives his lecture on the mechanics of hanging and we learn that Coldmoon is the leading suitor for the daughter of Goldfield, a wealthy businessman who lives nearby. The mother, called Madam Conk by the cat because of her giant nose, comes to visit Waverhouse and Sneaze (the master) in order to attempt to learn more about Coldmoon. This chapter also begins the harassment of Sneaze by local residents paid by Goldfield. V. II Ch. 1:The cat relates that he now sneaks into the Goldfield house with regularity. Soon, Suzuki arrives to speak with the master. Suzuki was a schoolmate with Sneaze and now works for Goldfield.


V. II Ch. 2: A burglar who looks exactly like Coldmoon, except without a mustache, breaks into the house at night and steals clothes and a ornate box that contains yams. The cat, who sees it all, is unable to wake the master and the thief is successful. On a subsequent evening, the cat attempts to prove his worth by catching a rat. Unfortunately, he is not successful and in addition to getting bit several times, he makes such noise that the master awakens, thinking he is being burgled again.


V. II Ch. 3: Coldmoon is now working on his doctorate, without which he cannot marry Opula Goldfield. His time is so far spent grinding glass balls with the purpose of creating a representative frog eye lens. Beauchamp, the poet friend, reveals that he has dedicated a book of love poems to Opula. This inspires the master to read his poem about the Spirit of Japan which is received positively.


V. II Ch. 4: The cat has decided to start exercising by hunting mantis, catching cicadas in trees, pine sliding (running down pine trees), and walking across the bamboo fence in the back yard. After taking some exercise, he heads to the public bath, where he becomes entranced by the newness of the experience. He also gives a detailed treatise on the history of nudity (and its current beastliness in Meiji culture).


V. III Ch. 1: We learn that the students of the school next door to the master"s house (The Hall of the Descending Cloud) have been annoying the master. They walk through the yard, talk loudly, and make a general nuisance of themselves. These events continue even after a fence has been built between the two residences. At one point the master forces them to come to his front door if they want to retrieve a lost baseball, but this happens so often that it becomes even more of a nuisance. Singleman Kidd, the Zen philosopher friend, encourages Sneaze to take the Zen approach and ignore the students as he pursues mental clarity. Suzuki had encouraged going with the flow, Dr. Amaki with hypnotism, and Kidd with Zen meditation. The cat does not know which path his master will walk.


V. III Ch. 2: The pockmarked master (as the cat describes him for the first time this chapter), it turns out, decided to follow the Zen path. One week after meeting with Kidd he receives a letter that Sneaze finds deeply profound. Waverhouse later informs Sneaze that it was written by a man driven mad by following Kidd"s teachings. Soon a detective arrives with the burglar in tow. Sneaze is to head to the police station the next day to pick up the recovered stolen items.


V. III Ch. 3: Sneaze leaves for the police station and the cat describes some of the oddities of the children. Yukie (Sneaze"s niece) arrives and has some conversation with Mrs. Sneaze. Sneaze returns, and one of his students arrives, admitting to sending a love letter to Opula as a joke. He hopes Sneaze can help keep him from being expelled. Coldmoon arrives soon after, however, and Sneaze offers no him no comfort.


V. III Ch. 4: Singleman, Waverhouse, Beauchamp, Coldmoon, and Sneaze are all present. They end up discussing the future of the world and conclude that the rise in individuality will result in the destruction of marriage. Also, they conclude that in the future everyone will commit suicide, to the extinction of the human race. Along the way we learn that Coldmoon married a girl from his hometown, leaving Opula to marry a young businessman. Learning that there was another cat as intelligent as him, making similar observations 100 years ago, the cat becomes depressed and drinks some of the left over beer. Drunk, he stumbles into a clay pot filled with water. Unable to escape, he accepts his fate and allows himself to drown.

Reviews

I Am a Cat - Paperback

As with the synopsis above, I apologize in advance for the length of this critique. However, there is a lot to say! Before I started reading I Am a Cat ...

- April 4, 2009

Quotes

"At ordinary times, most human beings are wearisomely ordinary; depressingly banal in appearance and deadly boring in their conversation. However, at certain moments, by some peculiar, almost supernatural, process their normal triviality can be transformed into something so weird and wonderful that no feline scholar of their species can afford to miss any occasion when that transformation seems likely to take place."

Natsume Soseki in I Am a Cat

"I am a cat."

Natsume Soseki the First Line of I Am a Cat

"Thankful, thankful, thankful."

Natsume Soseki the Last Line of in I Am a Cat

Originally Published Jan. 1, 1906

Paperback edition:

470 pages - Sept. 1, 2001

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