The Great Cat Massacre Review

Category: Cat, Folklore, Witchcraft
Last Updated: 06 Jan 2022
Essay type: Review
Pages: 2 Views: 346

The Great Cat Massacre entails understanding history differently. It is the story of vengeance of some ill fed journeymen at the face of their bourgeoisie master’s attitude. The pranksters carry out their master plan by killing the Cats and then staging a mock trial. What the author point outs is the humor that they share at the face of this cruelty and he urges the reader to understand the Rabelaian humor contextualizing the event against the backdrop of the peasant society of the Ancien Regime.

Darnton shows why they chose the cats and how cats are metaphoric in western linguistic and cultural tradition. He brilliantly depicts the relation Cats bare with female sexuality, witchcraft, routine slangs and so on. The killing of cats is not just a frenzy killing that came out of a berserk reaction against the bourgeoisie, but it was metaphorically ravaging the bourgeoisie master whom they cannot reach out for physically at least. In the analysis of folklores of the Red Riding Hood or the La Renarde Darnton believes that these folklores help us understanding the pulse of the peasant society of France.

He gives an entire overview of the French peasantry and the hardships they endured following, which he gives a fascinating folktale of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which includes a number of shape shifting charisma of the man and the devil following the eventual victory of man and the author follows that this reflected the essential idea of fighting over scarce resources. The use of culture here is “strictly in the Geertzian sense, as expressed, for example, in The Interpretation of Cultures as "an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic form by means of which men communicate, perpetuate and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life."

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Under what conditions can a historian legitimately make use of a definition of this sort? What attitude does it imply vis-a-vis texts that give access to the "symbolic forms” that functioned in ancient societies? Is it sufficient to the founding of a new way of writing cultural history…” (Chartier) While methodologically of course, Darnton shows us a newer archive, and there is nothing that could be said against it but on the other hand can the folktales be used transparently as a clean glass to interrogate the complexities of the peasant society? The killing of the Cats as a symbolic ritual and what it meant to the peasants is only speculated by Darnton, thus the job of the historian being that of the speculator is the
historian only an astrologer of the past?

The killing of the cats might be just without the baggage of the symbolic element that the cats carried as Darnton argues. It is possible that Cats did had immense importance as Darnton shows since Sorcery was a theme recurrent but I am merely speculating that it might not similar to the speculating exercise Darnton himself does.

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The Great Cat Massacre Review. (2016, Jul 15). Retrieved from

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