the great cat massacre thesis

The majority of historical texts look at history from a political point of view; the actions of kings and queens, how politics changed, and famous political figures … By allowing the workers to kill the cat, not only was it implied that the laborers had ravished the mistress, but that they had also brought ill-fate upon the whole house. Learn by example and become a better writer with Kibin’s suite of essay help services. They were given a “filthy, freezing room” (Darnton, 75) to sleep in and “rose before dawn, ran errands all day, and received nothing but slops to eat” (Darnton, 75). Robert Darnton explains in “The Great Cat Massacre” that during the 18th century in France, cats were significant on many different levels. Cats can also be a charm for a man as long as it is cherished, it can bring prosperity with women. The fact that the masters valued their cats over their workers is not only humiliating for the workers, but also dehumanizing. Darnton is trying to explain that because we cannot imagine have the same vicious thoughts towards cats as the apprentices did, we do no have the ability to understand the lives, and thoughts of the workers of preindustrial Europe. As Robert Darnton states, the workers “Dumped sackloads of half-dead cats in the courtyard, (76)” “Strung them up on improvised gallows, (77)” and killed them. The upper class not only had the time and money to take care of their cats, they loved them and treasured them more than even their workers. Cats played an important role in charivaris and rituals, and were tied in with witchcraft and sex. Cut its tail, clip its ears, smash one of its legs, tear or burn it…” (Darnton, 94) The last significance of cats were as symbols of sexual desire and fertility. With the words, “Our own inability to get the joke is an indication of the distance that separates us from the workers of preindustrial Europe,” (78) Darnton gives us a mental picture of just how far we have come from the olden days of Europe and how different life is today. In The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, Robert Darnton again displays the estimable gifts that have earned him a place among the finest practitioners of the historian's craft. What Darnton means by his statement in his novel is the difference between cultural and social standards while comparing present day to preindustrial Europe. Puss in Boots is a strange little folk tale in which a talking cat performs deeds of heroism in order to further his master's lot in life. In Robert Danton’s The Great Cat Massacre he explains that cats were not always domestic household creatures, but were viewed as taboo objects with a certain “je ne saus quoi” or mystery behind them. Darnton’s statement about the cat massacre demonstrates the discrepancy between the mindset of the reader and the mindset of the workers. ” A passion for cats seemed to have swept through the printing trade, at least at the level of the masters (76).” In the context of this essay the cat symbolizes all of the above in reference to the masters. In the printing trade there was enormous tension between the employer ( the masters) and the worker (the apprentices and journeymen). “To kill a cat was to bring misfortune upon its owner or its house” (94) and so by making the cat the victim, “[the workers] were attacking the house itself…” (97). Since the workers associated cats with their employers, the slaughter of the cats was a symbol of them attacking the bourgeois. Or in the Black Cat the character was obsessed with the killing the cat. The only way the workers were able to rebel was to kill the cats, something that doesn’t make sense now because we might say “well they should’ve just stood up for themselves”. For them it makes sense that cats are treated better than workers. Cats were associated with witchcraft, and the French even believed that cats were often witches in disguise as a way to “cast spells on their victims” (Darnton 92). This is the main reason why we, as 21st century people, were unable to “get the joke” without further cultural and contextual information. The meaning behind Darnton’s statement, “Our own inability to get the joke is an indication of the distance that separates us from the workers of preindustrial Europe” (pg 77-78) is that people have a hard time understanding why people act a certain way if they have never faced the same circumstances. They had poor living conditions, were given food scraps to eat, and they had to deal with the master and their superiors. The batel is centered around the treatment and development of the workforce that is made of the lower class. Its interesting that two cultures (as exemplified in chapter one) might share the same folktale, but adapt it to suite one particular country’s interests. Lastly, cats were the subject of many superstitions, for example, workers believed “if buried alive in Bearn, they could clear a field of weeds” and that eating certain parts of a cat could cure ailments. This was common practice, for in those days cats meant satisfaction to some and misery to many others. Killing the cats was how the apprentices expressed their rage against the bourgeois without being punished. The greatest conflict was between the peasants and the bourgeoisie. In this time felines were very different, they were as you heard in the original Halloween tales in pagan traditions – evil, cunning and “a little off”. Nicolas Contat, a worker in a printer shop, convinced his master to let him round up all the cats in the area and massacre them by, “howling and meowing so much that the bourgeois and his wife did not sleep a wink.” (76) The journeyman and apprentices set about gathering up and setting a mock trial for the cats, killing them all including the master’s wife’s favorite cat, la grise. Robert Darnton meant in his statement, “Our own inability to get the joke is an indication of the distance that separates us from the workers of preindustrial Europe”, that people of the twenty-first century are so different culturally and in their views, animosities, and perspectives, from the people in the eighteenth century that they do not understand the humor of the eighteenth century person. In this statement, Darnton means to say that differences between our current society and pre-industrial Europe make it difficult for us to comprehend the joke without an in-depth understanding of the time period and event which the joke was based on. The injustice seemed especially flagrant in the case of the apprentices, who were treated like animals while the animals were promoted over their heads to the position the boys should have occupied, the place at the master’s table” (79). Overview. In chapter 2 of The Great Cat Massacre, Robert Danton talks about how cats held a different significance to each of the different social classes. Darnton uses this symbolic joke and its misunderstanding to show the differences between classes within a culture. Because they were thought of as a part of the upperclass, killing cats was a way to fight back their masters. In the printing shop, the cats were treated better than the workers. To us as readers from the twenty-first century, our view on cats is different of those in pre-industrialized Europe. 78) The third and forth chapters continue to look at French classes and cultures. Not only through the folktales, where the lower class always succeeds in making their superiors look ridiculous as a recurring theme, but also in real life situation. However, the bourgeois did not participate in this. After all, “all the workers are in the league against the masters” (104), and therefore if “the masters love cats; consequently [the workers] hate them” (79). The most prominent conflict in France based on the view of cats and the classes is the conflict between the workers and their masters. The class conflict was the worst between the bourgeois and the apprentices because the masters’ wrath was “usually at the expense of the apprentices” (76); these poor boys took on the majority of the neglect and mistreatment from the bourgeois and the upper ranking journeymen mainly because the lower-ranking workers “were merely a source of cheap labor” (80). Peasants were jealous of their masters and angry that they were exploited so much. This story shows the growing animosity of the workers towards their masters and shows their feelings of being treated unjustly. Since a couple of bourgeois now held a monopoly over the printing trade, there was a smaller quantity of shops that continuously employed “underqualified printers, who had not undergone their apprenticeship that made a journeyman eligible, in principle to advance to a mastership. Two cultures from different times will have different views on the world forever. This works for modern jokes that are about one’s boss or other superior, just less gruesome. By killing la grise they were calling the mistress a slut and making fun of the entire household. The person would have to drink the blood of the cats tail to have a recovery. This action was due especially to the fact that the workers had “accumulated enough resentment to explode in an orgy of killing” (Darnton 98). Another level of the significance of cats is in sexuality, where kindness to cats is reciprocated in the form of a pretty woman. Some people thought harming a witch, or killing a cat, was considered lucky because they were trying to get rid of the evil spirits. Modern labor has laws on work hours, pay, and working conditions, all of which must be maintained by the employer. When Robert Darnton says, “Our own inability to get the joke is an indication of the distance that separates us from the workers of preindustrial Europe, (77)” he means that the traditional values from three centuries ago are so different than those now that at the time the Great Cat Massacre was hilarious while now the people today would wince in horrific disgust. “Cat killings provide a common theme in literature,” explains Darnton (90), but also can be found in music and entertainment of the time. When Robert Darnton says “Our own inability to get the joke is an indication of the distance that separates us from the workers of preindustrial Europe.” he is saying how our society now a days views the slaughter of cats. If the joke is understood it may be possible to understand “a basic ingredient of artisanal culture”(78). When cats are howling at night, a satanic orgy in a Sabbath for the devil was being commenced. The third and possibly most frustrating conflict for the workers is the supposed knowledge that there were not always these conflicts in place. Why Have Nuclear Weapons Not Been Used in Conflict Since 1945? Next, workers only stayed hired for a few months because they “quarreled with the master (80)” and left. Cats also represented sorcery and witchcraft, and killing a cat was thought to be lucky to some people because it was thought of as getting rid of an evil spirit. Remedies such as “drinking blood from a cat’s ear in red wine,” was used to get over pneumonia. Cats, most prominently, were viewed as symbolic of witchcraft. They felt no remorse for killing them, but rather excited at the idea of insulting the master and mistress through symbolic ways. There was class conflict all the time described in this book. To taunt the owners the apprentices cried and screamed just like the cats. Class conflict in this article is between the apprentices and masters. Similarly, cats were the subject of many superstitions, often because of the power that the French believed cats possessed. The workforce at this time was enduring further setbacks as it became harder and harder for journeymen to move up in their trade. Cats were significant to the workers on many levels. The people of eighteenth century France believed that eating a cat could bring on pregnancy. Because of this, the cats were the perfect target for the workers to easily humiliate the master and his wife. The next morning the villager would keep his eye out for any injuries on women in the village, which would prove she was a witch. “The masters love cats; consequently [the workers] hate them (Danton, 79).” The working class associated cats with witchcraft, sex, evil, and violence. These are some of the provocative questions the distinguished Harvard historian Robert Darnton answers The Great Cat Massacre, a kaleidoscopic view of European culture during in what we like to call "The Age of Enlightenment." These thoughts are similar to those of bourgeois which in turn were so different from the thoughts of the workers in Europe. This made for major conflicts between the bourgeois and the workers. In the 18th century, the masters’ love of cats and the workers’ hatred of them make the killing of them funny and satisfying to the workers. The working class was not treated well by the bourgeoisie, and “the killing of cats expressed a hatred for the bourgeois (79).” Peasants created many stories in which the rich or powerful man tricked the poor man, because that’s what happened to peasants in real life. I review the book, The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History by Robert Darnton. The workers had no rights over their own life, whereas we now have many. The “killing of the cats expressed a hatred for the bourgeois” (79). All of these factors formed a life for journeymen that was hard and utterly unrewarding. Darnton, in the Great Cat Massacre, describes 18th century cats as victims of torture and abuse all over Europe. Cats are “associated with the taboo (89)” in some cultures, and in France, to cross a cat at night was to “risk running into the devil (92).” Furthermore, witches had an important role in the superstition of cats as they “transformed themselves into cats in order to cast spells on their victims (92).” Peasants beat cats at night and found that the next day “Bruises had appeared on women believed to be witches (94),” suggesting a strong bond between cat and witch. But the cat was more than superstition. The great cat massacre and other episodes in French cultural history. With such capricious masters, the workers had no power to rebel against their bosses, so “they remained subordinate to the bourgeois” (101). According to Darnton, the master “rarely appeared in [the workshop], except to vent his violent temper, usually at the expense of the apprentices” (76). But until we shorten the distance between the people today and preindustrial workers, the great cat massacre will still remain an unamusing, gruesome event. Therefore, in making this comment, Darton is showing the incongruity between the mindsets and cultures of these different times. Finally, cats were a symbol for sexuality, often representing “fertility and female sexuality everywhere” (95). In fact, “to kill a cat was to bring misfortune upon its owner or its house” (94). Darnton's history. One man was even said to have “had their [his cats] portraits painted and fed them on roast fowl.” (Darnton, 76) Meanwhile, working class people hated these furry felines. Our societies, mindset, and beliefs are so different we will never comprehend the hilarity of hanging a kitty by the masses. There was supposedly only one way to keep yourself safe from the evil of cats–torture them. People of today (at least not psychopaths) do not go around killing cats and do not laugh when cats are hung in an improvised gallows. This book is a series of short essays by Darnton. With the way our society is today, we cannot understand the challenges and struggles they faced, since the challenges we face are much different. They could spoil the catch if they crossed the path of a fisherman in Brittany….To recover from a bad fall, you sucked the blood out of a freshly amputated tail of a tomcat. Another complication was that large printing shops were backed by the government, reducing the amount of small shops, therefore decreasing the amount of shop masters and increasing the amount of men in need of work. "The Bourgeois is the modes of production, a certain variety of Economic Man with his own way of life and his own ideology." These corrupt conditions of the printing shops are what led to the workers’ revolt. In this essay, class conflict is present between the journeymen and the masters. Using folktales, oral histories, letters, and police reports, Darnton explores the attitudes and behaviors of 18th-century French men and women, from indigent peasants to the most celebrated minds of the Enlightenment. Another meaning that cats were given was sexuality. In addition to being an evil spirit and having healing powers, the cats were also a symbol of fertility. The mistress states that “the wicked men can’t kill the masters, so they have killed [her] pussy,” (104) recognizing that by harming the cat, they have also brought a sort of misfortune and unrest upon the bourgeois. Masters would eat with their cats, and give the cats a wonderful meal, while the workers ate in the dirty areas, and had barely anything to sustain themselves. By killing cats, it showed how the working class was rebellious and didn’t like the upper class. Now people can’t understand the joke because they didn’t live through the Old Regime. In The Great Cat Massacre, Robert Darnton depicts the different symbolic meanings of cats, most of which are represented in the massacre of cats at a printing shop in the 1700s. Journeyman were also losing their jobs to workers that were not qualified but accepted lower wages. If we are unable to understand the joke, it demonstrates that the meaning we associate with cats is closer to the bourgeois, showing the distance between today’s society and the French print shop workers of the 1700s. In early modern Europe, the torture of cats was extremely popular. Taking it on a more literal sense, Darnton writes that the workers mindset was against the masters themselves, to the point where if the masters approved of cats, the workers hated them. Cats were commonly tortured and killed in festivals and charivaris, and had many symbolic meanings. This tragic event in the history of France continues to fascinate American historians and actors today. cats represented more than just furry house pets. Workers despised cats, peasants used cats to their advantage (although at times they feared them), and higher class citizens prioritized them. They believed that if one were to injure a cat in any way, the next morning a woman with injuries in the same area as the cat is a witch. their relation with witchcraft, sex, the upper-class, etc.). Perhaps they targeted cats because witches were obviously not tangible, and people felt they needed to gain some control of their world, thus they took action against cats or “witches”. The most important differential between master and worker however, was the labor to salary ratio. Additionally, superstitions have changed drastically between then and now, where cats are no longer viewed as familiars, and killing one doesn’t harm the cat’s owner, who would be viewed as a witch. Journeyman also were putting themselves at risk by working in “erratic spurts,” so instead of hiring skilled workers, masters would hire anyone capable of working normal hours consistently (along with lower wages). At the time, harming and torturing cats was widespread as people felt it would protect them. The only way to protect one from cats is to maim a cat, and that they did. During carnival, cats were tortured in charivaris to mock cuckolds. This style of writing allows situations to be viewed through the lens of those who are experiencing it, making for a more, The Great Cat Massacre with out a doubt has one of the most unusual titles ever created especially for a book about history. When Darnton says “Our own inability to get the joke is an indication of the distance that separates us from the workers of preindustrial Europe” he is explaining that our culture and mindset is miles away from the mindset and culture of the workers in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Although today we see cats as adorable house pets and affectionate, loving creatures, they were not viewed that way by the workers in France in the eighteenth century. The employer also rarely stepped into his shop, with the exception of ranting at the workers. The apprentices of Rue Saint-Séverin used cats as a way of showing their distaste for how they were being treated. Because we are unable to understand the joke of killing cats it shows how over time morals and views are changed over time. In 1914, a train pulled into a provincial British railway station. Free Essays on The Great Cat Massacre . To cure yourself from pneumonia, you drank blood from a cat’s ear in red wine. 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