Cat Person is a viral short story narrative by Kristen Roupenian published by The New Yorker. The short story can be read here which includes an audio copy narrated by Roupenian herself. Cat Person began trending on Twitter and has erupted numerous responses. I thought who better to discuss this viral story than me “Kat” and give my two cents in.
The Cat Person… my initial connection was that it reminds me of Bird person from the show my IQ isn’t high enough to watch. When I saw some of the Twitter responses and just from the title I was kind of expecting a much different story. My prediction was that Cat Person was going to be a Kafkaesque stark and dry voice of the absurd featuring a man who identifies his gender as cat. It would be an interesting exploration to see someone who’s as comfortable with their peculiar situation as Gregor is with transformation in Metamorphosis and gives the reader the dilemma of ostracizing or empathizing with this unique individual. The I decided to craft a thumbnail Image and I had a fun time re-imagining the story but with Cool Cat, the Thunder Cats, Big the Cat you get the picture and it makes this story so much closer to the fan-fic I was worried this would devolve into.
Cat Person is the story Margot a young flirty college student who meets Robert an older gentlemen at here job at a movie theater. The two start decide to go on a movie date that progressively highlights Margot’s pensiveness. Margot continues on her date in which she ends up going back to Robert’s place. Margot notices the absent of the cats which Robert mentioned and eventually the night leads to the two having sex. During intercourse, Margot disgusts in Robert devolving into a misogynistic and objectifying person. The night comes to an awkward conclusion to where Margot wants to distant herself from Robert. Margot struggles with finding a polite and indirect way to have Robert just leave her alone. Her friend takes her phone and bluntly tells Robert that she ain’t interested. Margot runs into Robert at a bar and uncomfortable leaves with a group of friends. The short story ends with Margot receiving a bombardment of texts in which Robert eventually lashes out in anger.
The short story is very digestible, while not the level of cringy fan-fiction it is mainly straight forward with little symbolism or interpretative sub-text. The most poignant I found to be was the cats. Meant to be the a common interest between the two, it is made a big deal when they are absent from Robert’s apartment. They come to symbolize justifiable paranoia, or the fear that Margot seems to possess about Robert and the stress that something is missing. Essential it encompasses the idea of modern dating culture harvesting a feeling of incomplete familiarity with people as well as the expectations. We are able to communication and connect so much either but we begrudgingly acknowledge that we may do so quickly and in a shallow manner. Cat Person hopes to expose the disillusion of the deep, that by staring into the waves that crash the shore in a soothing rhythmic display do we fall sometimes fall into two different traps: fabricating a beautiful aquatic dream beyond the shore that doesn’t exist or fearing/ignoring what may lurk beyond greater depths. The cat made to represent what is not known about Robert and how we feel about: Are the cats the genuine/innocent qualities of Robert that aren’t focused on more in the narrative, is it foreshadowing the misinterpretation of Robert’s character what she thought of him turning to be is not true or just a broad emphasis that through this encounter Robert will never be fully understood as we fellow cat people can’t know the full account of ones being.
I tried to look into the emphasis on Red Vines, and followed a lead I had that Red Vines are older than Twizzlers and a point made to exemplify the age gap between the 20 year old Margot and the 34 year old Robert. This is untrue, my brief searching discovered that Twizzlers were introduced in 1845, and is considered one of the “oldest confectionery firms in the US” while Red Vines are from 1914. This would have been a questionable point to make regardless because both are still prevalent to the market and popularity doesn’t vary on decade. I will agree with those who believe that Red Vines is to make a regional west vs east coast distinction but even that is semantical.
Roupenian finds a way to be both tense and aloof with giving her “relatable tale” enough confliction that it remains relatable to the various degrees of the bank of experience the reader may have with this experience. Both the main characters are blank slates enough that they serve well for readers to project. I was nervous that the narrative was going in a concerning direction of consensual rape or the idea out their that even if giving consent at the time, you can retroactively go back and deem it rape (basically arguing that even though you signed the waiver and nothing that breached that agreement happened because you didn’t actually read it and changed your mind means you have a legitimate lawsuit on your hands. I think people with bad experiences of their own can project Robert to be a creepy older guy, while others who have been through courtship and emotional vulnerability can possible emphasize with this guy. I think there is the idea in there of toxic masculine attributes and the female plight that admittedly I was a little upset with the end result being on that peels away some ambiguity by demonizing Robert and completely lets the main character of the hook for her flaws.
I found the final few moments highlights the fact that both characters are emotionally inarticulate. Robert can’t find the way the express how hurt he is from being discarded without any explanation that it pretty much goes down like Bo Burnham’s Break-up song. The conflict transitions over to Margot’s inability to be empathetic, while debating the correct way to handle this situation she does become slightly self-centric focusing on how to rid herself of her problem rather than truly caring about how to be honest with Robert.
The shift occurs with the line:
“Yeah, right, she thought, and then he was on top of her again, kissing her and weighing her down, and she knew that her last chance of enjoying this encounter had disappeared”
re-reading the section that succeed this, I still stand by my interpretation that this isn’t rape but that Robert is definitely stepping over his boundaries at least from the perspective given. The shift is briefly highlighted again, to claim how the shift has created a new outlook for our protagonist
“she felt like a doll again, as she had outside the 7-Eleven, though not a precious one now—a doll made of rubber, flexible and resilient, a prop for the movie that was playing in his head”
The narrative telling is important in this shift, being in both the 3rd person and in the past tense. It’s hard because this essential puts us in the past, that all these events have already occurred by since Margot is the limited subject and not the narrator we can determine that these are her in the moment thoughts and not 20/20 hindsight.
Despite all the advance ways we have to communicate, we aren’t necessarily connecting on a deeper capacity. I feel that others might see this piece as demonizing men, or sex, or society but in there, there is something saying that we are all slightly fragile, emotional, and searching for some sort of connection as part of our human nature but are just poor communicators when it comes to doing it. It showcases our insecurities with personal identity and the struggle to know others in a meaningful way. Cat Person also wishes to comment on ideas of social contract and what is regarded as the courteous or expected response in certain social situations.
Closing Remarks –
So those are my thoughts on the short story that went viral, and feel free to let me know what you thought with a comment below. For more articles here feel free to subscribe through WordPress or if you’re not a fellow writer than you can still subscribe via email. Thank you for taking the time to read and as always I’ll see you at the movies.