“A cat having made acquaintance with a mouse, pretended such great love for her, that the mouse agreed that they should live and keep house together.”
Before summarizing and putting down my thoughts on this tale, I feel the need to warn you that, unfortunately, the poor mouse meets an unfavorable end at the hands of the cat. This is not a whimsically fun or hopeful tale by any means – from beginning all the way to the end.
The first sentence (the opener of this blog post) sets up the tale quite well. The reader is made aware that the cat is a shady character (“pretended such great love”), and it is made clear that the mouse has entered into a relationship which, unbeknownst to the mouse, is not one of mutual love and [presumably] respect.
What comes next is important for the rest of the events of the story, so I’m going to type it out here.
“We must make provision for the winter.” said the cat, “or we shall suffer hunger, and you, little mouse, must not stir out, or you will be caught in a trap.”
So they took counsel together and bought a little pot of fat. And then they could not tell where to put it for safety, but after long consideration the cat said there could not be a better place than the church, for nobody would steal there; and they would put it under the altar and not touch it until they were really in want. So this was done, and the little pot placed in safety.
And thus begins (or continues, based on the first line of the tale) the cat’s deceit and trickery: “But before long the cat was seized with a great wish to taste [the fat].” The cat does not stifle or forego this wish, but instead indulges himself by eating a little of the fat at a time. Three times the cat tells the mouse that he has been asked to stand god-father to a cousin’s newborn (a lie, all three times), but instead he goes to the church and eats the fat until it is gone. When the mouse asks about the names of the new offspring, the cat replies Top-off (the first time), Half-gone (the second time), and All-gone (the third time). The mouse wonders at these names, but the cat lashes out in exasperation at her wonder and finds a way to insult her – because she is [unknowingly] chipping away at his story.
When the winter had come and there was nothing more to be had out of doors, the mouse began to think of their store. “Come, cat,” said she, “we will fetch our pot of fat; how good it will taste, to be sure!” “Of course it will,” said the cat, “just as good as if you stuck your tongue out of the window!”
That last line would be more humorous if it came from a better character than this cat.
When the cat and the mouse go to the church and fetch the pot, it is of course, empty. The mouse immediately sees through the cat’s deceit and calls him out on it. The cat once again lashes out, and this time, takes his temper too far.
“Oh, now I know what it all meant,” cried the mouse; “now I see what sort of a partner you have been! Instead of standing godfather you have devoured it all up; first Top-off, then Half-gone, then”–
“Will you hold your tongue!” screamed the cat, “another word, and I devour you too!”
And the poor little mouse, having “All-gone” on her tongue, out it came, and the cat leaped upon her and made an end of her. And that is the way of the world.
Based on the poor mouse’s fate, and the cat’s false love from the very beginning, “partnership” is an interesting word to include in the title of this story. I began reading the tale with my ideas about what partnership means – which I am comfortable saying align with common connotations of the word. Respect, mutual understanding, love, give and take; just to name a few things. And I was, of course, let down in the first sentence. The denotation of partnership does not contain all of those elements, understandably, and a more specific, business-oriented definition includes the criteria of cooperation in favor of advancing mutual interests. This certainly applies to this cat and mouse’s relationship, although their interests were quite different: the cat wanted a place to sleep and a full belly, and the mouse, I assume, wanted love and someone to share her life with. I’m getting sad all over again.
One more point I want to address is that of the last line: “And that is the way of the world.” The tale did not stop at “made an end of her,” which would have been a technically adequate way to end the story. But to shift the focus off the fictional tale and onto the real world was an interesting choice. It is not a surprise that a fairy tale warns, hints at, or reflects reality. But instead of finishing the tale with only thoughts of the poor mouse, and how tragic it is to not just be in a one-sided relationship, but to meet your end at the hand of the person you want to share your life with, I am wondering WHAT is the way of the world? That trust is overrated? That love can’t be shared? That deceit is imminent? That you should get out in front of/get a leg up on other people before they can hurt you? Perhaps I will be better off leaving this tale to the pages of this bind-up and refer to Tom and Jerry for a more equal cat and mouse partnership…