Short Story Saturday: “Schrodinger’s Cat”

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Hello again! Today, I’ve decided to look at another story by Ursula K Le Guin: “Schrodinger’s Cat.” The story was orignally published in 1974, and was republished in a 1992 anthology called Cats In Space And Other Places. I love cats, and I love space, so why not?

Though I should note that space doesnt really figure into this tale. Also, it’s kind of a weird, stream-of-consciousness thing, so there’s that.

Anyway, let’s go!

We start with an unnamed narrator mentioning that ambiguous things are heading to an equally ambiguous climax, so she decides to find  place that’s cooler and moves more slowly. This will make a little more sense later on.

So, while the narrator is on her way to this place, she comes across a married couple that’s falling apart. I that they’re literally falling apart:things are coming off them. The woman asks why she can’t express herself, to which the man responds by saying she has great legs. Classy.

At this point, the narrator notices that she’s being followed by a cat. After the couple has finished deteriorating, the narrator continues on and thinks about grief for a while:

This grief is with me still. I fear it is part of me, like foot or loin or eye, or may even be myself: for I seem to have no other self, nothing further, nothing that lies outside the border of grief.

Eventually the narrator makes it to a house, and the cat follows her. Here we get some insight into the story’s world: at some point, everything in the planet started getting very hot. It started with appliances like ovens getting hot without being on, then moved onto other objects, and eventually people. Along with that, living creatures started to move a lot more quickly than they did before. This is largely why the narrator feels so drawn to the cat: it’s pleasantly cool to touch and moves at a normal speed.

So the cat is hangin out with the narrator when someone comes to the door. It appears to be a mailman carrying a large sack, but according to the narrator is actually a small do in the form of a mailman. The dog notices the cat, and comes to a conclustion: the cat, is, indeed, Schrodinger’s cat.

The story gives an explanation of this. Basically, Schrodinger’s Cat is a thought experiment originally created by physicist Erwin Schrodinger. The basic conceit is this: put a cat in a box with a completely silent gun, set to go off if certain, random conditions are met. Leave the box closed. Now, is the cat alive or dead, and is it possible to tell without openin the box?

The explanation follows with a discussion of the nature of certainty. Basically, the ony way that we can be certain of anything is to open the box, metaphorically speaking.

And it just so happens that the dog brought a box with him. Which he sets up and tells the narrator to put the cat in. The narrator, at first, says no, and asks the dog why he wants to do this. The dog, tearfully, explains that he can’t stand the uncertainty.

The cat then makes the decision for them, and jumps into the box himself. Which isn’t really surprising, knowing cats. The dog and the narrator then place a lid over the box, then sit and wait. During this waiting, the narrator thinks about the story of Pandora.

Eventually, the narrator gets impatient and takes the lid off the box, against the dog’s protestations. It turns out Schrodinger’s cat isn’t alive, or dead, but simply gone. As the two wonder where the cat has gone, the roof of the house is lifted away, revealin stars.

The narrator closes the story saying that she will miss that cat, and wondering if the cat has found what they’d all lost.

So, that’s a pretty interesting story. It has a dreamlike quality, and tells its story largely through metaphor. As for what the story means, that’s largely up to interpretation.

My interpretation is that the story is largely about how we can’t really be certain of anything. There’s a lot of talk about certainty and uncertainty in the story, as well as the fact that the cat is simply gone when they look in the box.

Of course, my interpretation isn’t the only one, which is the great thing about art: you can see almost anything in it.

 

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