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Q: interpretation of Mark Twain's quote ( Answered,   0 Comments )
Subject: interpretation of Mark Twain's quote
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: bestcpa-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 17 Jul 2004 14:45 PDT
Expires: 16 Aug 2004 14:45 PDT
Question ID: 375498
I would be very glad if someone can explain how following quote should
be interpreted. (English is my second language)
Mark Twain's quote " A home without a cat, and a well-fed, well-petted
and properly revered cat, may be a perfect home, perhaps, but now can
it prove its title?"
Subject: Re: interpretation of Mark Twain's quote
Answered By: markj-ga on 17 Jul 2004 16:03 PDT
bestcpa --

I think that your question can best be answered after first providing
you with the context in which Twain used this language.  Here is the
complete first full paragraph of Twain's book, "The Tragedy of
Pudd'nhead Wilson":

"In 1830 it was a snug collection of modest one- and two- story frame
dwellings, whose whitewashed exteriors were almost concealed from
sight by climbing tangles of rose vines, honeysuckles, and morning
glories. Each of these pretty homes had a garden in front fenced with
white palings and opulently stocked with hollyhocks, marigolds,
touch-me-nots, prince's-feathers, and other old-fashioned flowers;
while on the windowsills of the houses stood wooden boxes containing
moss rose plants and terra-cotta pots in which grew a breed of
geranium whose spread of intensely red blossoms accented the
prevailing pink tint of the rose-clad house-front like an explosion of
flame. When there was room on the ledge outside of the pots and boxes
for a cat, the cat was there-in sunny weather - stretched at full
length, asleep and blissful, with her furry belly to the sun and a paw
curved over her nose. Then that house was complete, and its
contentment and peace were made manifest to the world by this symbol,
whose testimony is infallible. A home without a cat -and a well-fed,
well-petted, and properly revered cat-may be a perfect home, perhaps,
but how can it prove title?"

Classic Bookshelf: The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson"

In setting the initial idyllic scene and mood in this way, Twain makes
prominent use of the symbol of a contented cat to signify a "perfect
home" and a tranquil neighborhood (every home in the neighbborhood is
characterized by such a cat).

I think that the problem with interpreting the quotation comes
entirely from Twain's use of the word "title," and note that Twain
does not include "its" before that word.  To me, the meaning is much
clearer without it.

Twain is playing with "title" by using it in two different and related
senses.  In the context of a neighborhood of homes, the first sense of
the word that may come to mind is its legal meaning as the
"coincidence of all the elements that constitute the fullest legal
right to control and dispose of property."  The American Heritage
Dictionary, Second College Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company (1982). 
To use the word in a sentence (as we had to do in elementary school),
"He has acquired full title to his home after paying off his

This sense of the word is not limited to its strict legal usage,
however, because is also means, in plainer English, "[a]nything that
provides ground for or justifies a claim."  (See dictionary citation
above). This is the sense from which the verb "entitle" derives and
the literal sense in which Twain is using it here.
So, Twain means that a satisfied cat is a way to demonstrate the claim
that the Wilson home (and its neighbors) are "entitled" to be called
perfect.  In other words, a happy cat is a sure sign of a perfect
home.  But he said it much better than I just did.

Search Strategy:

I focused on finding the context of the quote, using this Google
search successfully:

twain "home without a cat" wilson

Then, with the help of my own knowledge of the various meanings of
"title," I used my well-worn desk dictionary as authority for what I
think is the clear meaning of Twain's language here.

I am confident that this is the information you are seeking.  If
anything is unclear, please ask for clarification before rating the

There are no comments at this time.

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