The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe Study Guide
“The Black Cat” is a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe. It was published in 1843. The story is about a person who loves pets but ends up mistreating them in a twisted way. The narrator’s favorite pet is a black cat, but one night it bites him. In response, the narrator cruelly cuts out its eye and hangs it from a tree. Their house later burns down, but a wall remains with a burned image of a cat hanging by a noose. The narrator then finds another black cat, similar to the first one but with a white mark on its chest. However, the narrator starts hating this cat too. They try to kill it with an axe, but their wife stops them. Instead, the narrator murders their wife and hides the body behind a brick wall in the basement. When the police come, the narrator taps on the wall and hears a shrieking sound. The police discover not only the wife’s corpse but also the black cat that had been accidentally walled in with the body, which alerted them with its cry.
Analysis of The Black Cat
“The Black Cat” is a story by Edgar Allan Poe that shows how the human mind can witness its own decline and destruction but is unable to stop it. The narrator of the story is aware of his mental deterioration and tries to resist it, but he ultimately succumbs to madness.
Poe believed in creating a specific emotional impact on the reader through his stories. In “The Black Cat,” he aimed to evoke a sense of complete perversity. The narrator’s actions throughout the story are driven by perverse motives rather than logic or reason.
The story begins with the narrator asserting his sanity while providing a logical account of the events that led to his torment. However, as the story progresses, we see the actions of a madman who is aware of his madness but can still comment on it objectively.
The narrator starts his confession when he was considered a normal person who loved animals. He had a special bond with his favorite pet, a black cat named Pluto. However, his behavior changes drastically due to alcohol, leading him to commit cruel acts towards the cat, such as blinding it and eventually hanging it.
Afterwards, his house burns down, but he fails to see any connection between his actions and the tragedy. He believes that the image of a gigantic cat engraved on a wall in the ruins of his house was caused by external factors. However, it is implied that the image is a creation of his own disturbed mind.
Months later, the narrator encounters another black cat resembling Pluto, except for a white mark on its breast. He brings it home, but his growing perversity causes him to hate the cat. The cat’s missing eye further convinces him that it is the reincarnation of Pluto, and he loses his sense of empathy.
In a sudden act of violence, the narrator attempts to kill the cat with an axe but ends up murdering his wife instead. He then hides her body by walling it up in the cellar, similar to the events in Poe’s story “The Cask of Amontillado.”
The narrator believes he has successfully concealed his crime, but when the police arrive unexpectedly, he raps on the wall where his wife’s body is hidden, and a voice responds from within. The police tear down the wall and discover the corpse, with the cat standing on its head.
The story concludes with the ironic twist that the despised cat becomes an instrument of retribution against the murderer. The narrator’s own words and actions convict him of his own madness by the end of the story.
In “The Black Cat,” the main character is an unnamed narrator who undergoes a significant transformation throughout the story. At the beginning, the narrator is depicted as a person with a fondness for animals and is known for being humane and docile. He has a special attachment to his pets, particularly his favorite, a black cat named Pluto. However, as the story progresses, we witness the narrator’s descent into madness and his capacity for cruelty.
The narrator’s deterioration is marked by his increasing moodiness, irritability, and disregard for the feelings of others. He becomes more volatile and prone to acts of perversity. After a drunken episode, he cuts out one of Pluto’s eyes, an act driven purely by his own perverse nature. This act serves as the catalyst for a series of increasingly disturbing actions.
As the story unfolds, the narrator’s mental state continues to deteriorate. He hangs Pluto from a tree, displaying a complete lack of remorse or empathy. When a new black cat enters his life, he grows to despise it, seeing it as a reincarnation of Pluto. His hatred for the cat intensifies, leading him to attempt to kill it with an axe. However, his wife intervenes, and in a fit of madness, he murders her instead.
The narrator exhibits a distorted sense of rationality throughout the story. He tries to justify his actions, often offering explanations that mask his true madness. He believes in superstitions, such as the burned image of the cat being a result of external forces rather than acknowledging his own guilt. He is in a constant battle between his rational mind and the growing madness within him.
Ultimately, the narrator’s downfall is a result of his own psychological disintegration. His actions reflect an inability to control his own destructive impulses, leading to tragic consequences for those around him. “The Black Cat” serves as a chilling portrayal of the human mind’s capacity for self-destruction and the inability to halt one’s own descent into madness.
Title of the story
The title of the story, “The Black Cat,” is straightforward and descriptive. It refers to a prominent element within the narrative, which is a black cat that plays a significant role in the events that unfold. The title sets the tone for the story, suggesting a mysterious and possibly sinister theme associated with the feline character. It captures the reader’s attention and generates curiosity about the role and symbolism of the black cat within the plot. Overall, the title effectively reflects the central focus of the story and contributes to its overall atmosphere of darkness and suspense.
Themes of The Black Cat
“The Black Cat” explores several themes that contribute to its dark and unsettling narrative:
1. Madness and Psychological Deterioration: The story delves into the theme of mental decay and the descent into madness. The unnamed narrator, initially portrayed as a humane and gentle person, gradually succumbs to his own perverse impulses and loses touch with reality. Poe highlights the fragility of the human mind and its potential for self-destruction.
2. Guilt and Conscience: The theme of guilt permeates the story. The narrator’s acts of cruelty towards the black cat and his eventual murder of his wife weigh heavily on his conscience, leading to inner turmoil. Despite attempts to justify his actions, the guilt ultimately consumes him, symbolized by the haunting presence of the cat and the discovery of his crimes.
3. Perversity and Violence: Poe explores the dark aspects of human nature through the theme of perversity. The narrator’s actions are driven by an inexplicable desire to commit evil deeds for their own sake. The story delves into the inherent capacity for violence and cruelty within individuals, highlighting the potential for moral degradation.
4. Superstition and the Supernatural: Elements of superstition and the supernatural are woven throughout the narrative. The belief in the cat’s reincarnation and the cat’s eerie influence on events suggest a connection to the otherworldly. These elements add an atmosphere of foreboding and mystery, blurring the line between the natural and the supernatural.
5. Fate and Retribution: The story explores the theme of fate and the notion that one’s actions will ultimately be met with consequences. The narrator’s increasingly depraved acts lead to his own downfall. The presence of the black cat, seemingly serving as an agent of retribution, underscores the idea that one cannot escape the repercussions of their deeds.
Thus, “The Black Cat” delves into themes of madness, guilt, perversity, superstition, and fate, painting a chilling portrait of the human psyche and the destructive forces that can consume an individual.