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Macavity: The Mystery Cat is a poem by T S Eliot that is part of his collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a collection of feline-centered poems published in 1939. These poems later became the lyrical basis for the musical Cats. Macavity: The Mystery Cat, like the others in the collection, showcases Eliot’s wit, mastery of verse, and ability to create memorable character sketches. It is a whimsical and humorous portrayal of a mischievous and elusive cat named Macavity. 

Summary

Macavity, the titular character of the poem, is a mysterious and criminal mastermind cat who is never found at the crime scene. Macavity is described as the Napoleon of Crime among cats, suggesting his reputation for mischief and deception. He is extraordinarily clever, elusive, and able to evade capture by human and feline authorities alike.

Eliot portrays Macavity as a master of disguise and a fiendish thief, associating him with a series of humorous and outrageous crimes, such as the theft of the Crown Jewels and the levitation of a prized racehorse. Macavity manages to slip away undetected whenever a crime is committed, leaving only confusion and speculation behind. Despite the severe nature of his transgressions, the poem’s tone is playful and whimsical.

The poem humorously describes Macavity’s various attributes and abilities, such as his remarkable agility, knack for disappearing at will, and ability to defy the laws of gravity. The physical description of Macavity paints him as a dishevelled cat with sunken eyes and a dusty coat. His movements are described as slow and languorous, but he is always alert and planning his next mischievous act. Macavity is portrayed as always staying one step ahead of those who seek to apprehend him.

Despite the efforts of the authorities and the other cats, Macavity remains at large, continuing to evade capture and perpetrate his schemes. Eliot uses fanciful language to capture the cleverness and cunning of this cat, describing him as a criminal mastermind while imbuing him with a sense of otherworldliness, calling him a fiend in feline shape and a monster of depravity. The poem concludes with a playful acknowledgement of Macavity’s skill and cunning and a warning to be wary of his wily ways.

Characterisation of Macavity

Eliot’s portrayal of Macavity as a cunning and elusive cat with a reputation for mischief and crime is amusing and intriguing. This Napoleon of Crime is characterised as much by his crimes as by his ability to evade capture, which captures the enigmatic and independent nature often attributed to cats. Macavity is a larger-than-life figure, and this poem embellishes his character with traits of famous literary and historical figures, such as Professor Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Narrative Structure

The poem unfolds as a series of playful descriptions of Macavity’s attributes and abilities, each stanza adding to his mystique. Eliot employs repetition and rhyme to create a rhythmic, engaging narrative, propelling the reader forward. The poem’s episodic structure allows for the gradual unveiling of Macavity’s character, building suspense and anticipation with each new revelation.

Humour and Irony

Eliot infuses the poem with humour and irony, poking fun at the idea of a cat who is both a master criminal and a master of escape. The poem does not take its subject too seriously, and it’s filled with exaggerated descriptions that add to its comedic effect. The absurdity of Macavity’s exploits is underscored by the deadpan tone of the narrator, who presents the cat’s antics with a sense of amusement and disbelief. Through humour, Eliot invites the reader to suspend disbelief and enter into the fantastical world of the poem.  

Exploration of Cat Behaviour

While Macavity: The Mystery Cat is a work of fantasy, it also offers insight into the behaviour and nature of cats. Eliot captures the enigmatic and independent spirit of cats and their agility, stealth, and cunning. By anthropomorphising cats and imbuing them with human-like qualities, Eliot invites readers to see the world from a feline perspective and appreciate the complexities of cat behaviour.

Linguistic Playfulness

Eliot’s use of language in the poem is both inventive and playful. He employs puns, wordplay, and clever turns of phrase to create vivid and memorable descriptions of Macavity and his exploits. The poem’s linguistic richness adds to its charm and appeal, inviting readers to savour the sounds and rhythms of the text. 

Rhyme and Rhythm

The poem is appreciated for its rhythmic scheme and use of internal rhyme, creating a lyrical flow that is both engaging and musical. Eliot employs anapestic tetrameter in much of the poem, which gives it a bounding, rhythmic quality reminiscent of nursery rhymes.

Macavity: The Mystery Cat is a delightful and entertaining poem that celebrates the charm and intrigue of cats while also poking fun at the idea of a cat who is both a master criminal and a master of escape. Through humour, wit, and linguistic inventiveness, Eliot invites readers into a whimsical world where cats reign supreme and mischief is always afoot.

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Devika Panikar
δάσκαλος (dáskalos) means the teacher in Greek. Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature since 2006. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges under this directorate and is now posted at the Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of lecture notes she prepared by referencing various sources for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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