Thoughts on “The Companionship of the Cat & the Mouse”

by crfricke

“The Companionship of the Cat and the Mouse” is a great example of a fairy tale that might be mistaken for trying to “teach” us something. It’s a simple, bleak story that seems to be offering a moral at the end but, like most fairy tales, isn’t moralizing in the slightest.

In the tale, a cat and a mouse decide to “set up a common household” as a couple, and from there it becomes exactly what you’d expect. The cat, of course, is a complete rogue. But what you might not expect is  that after the cat has royally screwed over his mouse-wife, the mouse-wife doesn’t even get to have any witty come-uppance, as would seem to be her due. She’s simply eaten.

Enter the narrator, to tell us that “that’s just the way of the world.”

Comforting, eh? And infuriating, too. The idea behind the story of the cat and mouse is so old that it’s a pretty solid given that the cat won’t make it to the end without a tail hanging between his teeth. Yet a smart reader also knows that just because this story is familiar, it doesn’t mean that the story’s closing point is gospel truth. It’s like talking to an elderly neighbor about a scam that one of their bridge partners recently fell for: “And you know—he never was a Nigerian prince! But that’s how everyone is these days.”

Yes, you know how the story goes, but you also know that not everything that’s true is truth.

But then, just to play the narrator’s advocate here—”truth” is also a relative concept. And maybe those who might turn up their nose at such a generalized view of the world are just as bad. Write a response, and let’s find out.

So if you were rewriting this story, how would you complicate that generalized “moral”? Read my writing response here, and feel free to add your own freewrite in the comments. And read the full tale as translated by Margaret Hunt in 1884, available at Pitt.edu.

Illustration by Walter Crane

Illustration by Walter Crane

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