A Glimpse Into the World of “The Black Cat”

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Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories are known for their suspense, mystery, and ability to evoke feelings of horror and shock in readers.

Poe’s exploration of the human mind reveals the abnormalities of his narrators, and he disapproves of their desperate attempts to justify themselves. He delves into the realistic investigation of individuals who are too far gone to comprehend or control their own madness. His stories, often centered around gruesome murders, meticulously depict the development of these themes, displaying a realism that rivals the studies of psychiatry in the twentieth century. This is exemplified in “The Black Cat”, where Poe parallels true stories of abnormal psychological pressures that lead to murder, frequently seen in daily newspapers. The story opens with a narrator facing imminent hanging, driven to confess his sins for redemption. He chronicles how his descent into alcoholism and disregard for his beloved cat and wife resulted in him mutilating and killing the feline. After losing everything in a house fire, he encounters a new cat eerily resembling the first one.In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” the protagonist experiences a series of household events that lead to his descent into madness. While working in the cellar with his wife, he is almost tripped by their cat, causing him to grab an axe in an attempt to kill it. Tragically, his swing is halted by his wife, resulting in her accidental death. The narrator then conceals her body. Later, when the police arrive, he tauntingly taps the wall where he has buried her, ultimately revealing his horrific deed (Poe). Throughout this dark tale, Poe effectively employs point of view, symbolism, foreshadowing, and theme to illustrate the narrator’s gradual spiral into madness (Poe 1).

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Told from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, who distorts the truth either consciously or unconsciously, the story presents a one-sided narrative. It is unclear whether the events described are fact or fiction, as noted by Prinsky (231). According to Martha Womack, Poe’s use of the first person point of view enhances the intended effect of moral shock and horror (5). The story begins with the narrator explicitly stating that he is writing rather than speaking, that the unbelievable story is true, and that he does not expect anyone to believe him (Poe 1). The narrator emphasizes that the events described are not a result of madness or a dream, but are actual occurrences caused by natural causes and effects (Poe 1). However, by making these declarations, the narrator ironically leads readers to question his credibility and sanity, casting doubt on the truthfulness of the story. By adopting a first person point of view, readers are given limited access to information and are left to wonder if they will ever learn the complete truth.Despite the one-sided perspective, the text provides insights into the narrator’s feelings towards their cat but lacks information about their feelings towards their wife. The narrator’s sensitivity and strong love for animals are evident, particularly for their favorite animal, a black cat. However, the narrator’s attitude changes after they begin drinking. Throughout the story, the narrator never discloses their wife’s name or explains their lack of remorse when they kill her. This suggests that the narrator intentionally withholds information about their wife and possibly discourages deeper consideration of her. The point of view in the story can be described as offering a glimpse into the dark recesses of the narrator’s mind. It allows readers to delve into the inner workings and participate in the narrative’s events. (Hoffman 235; Womack 5)

The story contains significant symbolism that plays a crucial role throughout. The symbolism reveals hidden messages behind the actions of the narrator. One prominent symbol in the story is the black cat, which holds multiple meanings. Traditionally, a black cat represents evil or bad luck. In this tale, the presence of two black cats could signify double the evil. However, Hoffman suggests that the black cat may symbolize something different, proposing that it represents a witch in disguise. According to this interpretation, in the language of this story, “witch” equals “wife,” hence implying that the black cat symbolizes the wife. Nevertheless, black cats are also associated with death, sorcery, witchcraft, spirits of the dead, and commonly seen as a symbol of bad luck. The name of the cat itself, Pluto, can be regarded as a symbol. In Greek and Roman mythology, Pluto was known as the god of the dead and ruler of the underworld. Therefore, the cat’s name signifies that it will somehow bring about death.The cat’s eye in the story can signify the “evil eye”, representing someone’s disturbing gaze. It could also symbolize the destruction of the narrator’s own self. The fact that the cat is partially blind could exemplify the narrator’s own impairment, whether it be from alcohol or guilt. The harm inflicted upon the cat may symbolize the narrator’s desires to harm his wife. Additionally, the presence of Pluto is seen as both an accusation and a sign to the reader. Edgar Allan Poe also uses specific words, such as “heart”, “bosom”, and “breast”, to symbolize the narrator’s lack of love and compassion towards others, particularly his wife.The narrator in the story describes killing his wife by stating that he “buried the axe in her brain,” using the word “brain” instead of head or skull, possibly indicating that he had been contemplating this act for some time (Poe 4). Another significant symbol in the story is when the brick wall is broken and the cat is found perched on the corpse’s head, serving as further evidence of the narrator’s guilt (related to the site of the wound) and its cause (Prinsky 234). Poe strategically incorporates foreshadowing to predict major events that will occur. At the beginning of the story, when the narrator writes, “But to-morrow I die, and today I would unburthen my soul” (Poe 1), readers are alerted that they are about to discover the horrifying crime committed by the narrator to be in such a predicament. Womack points out that Poe heavily employs foreshadowing throughout the narrative, subtly indicating that he will violently harm his wife (6). The recurring mention of the cat and minimal references to his wife further suggest that the narrator lacks concern for her and is capable of causing harm without remorse. The introduction of the black cat itself foreshadows many forthcoming events.The cat, symbolizing misfortune, serves as a foreshadowing of the upcoming events that will bring about negative outcomes. The cat’s name, Pluto, also foreshadows what will occur in the story. The name implies that the narrator will descend into the dark realms of alcoholism, self-deception, and violence. Another instance of foreshadowing is seen when the silhouette of a hanging cat remains on the wall after the house is destroyed by fire. This suggests that the narrator will forever be haunted by his act of killing Pluto. The gallows on the second cat’s chest also contribute to the foreshadowing, as they imply that the narrator will be hanged in the future for murdering his wife. Prinsky explains that foreshadowing is employed in the cellar crime scene, which reminds readers of the name of the first black cat and foreshadows the narrator’s descent into irrationality, evil, and the depths of his unconscious mind (234). “The Black Cat” has perplexed critics due to its lack of a clear theme. However, there are multiple themes that can be derived from the story, many of which relate to psychological exploration (Womack). As Prinsky points out, these themes include reason versus irrationality, human versus animal, self-knowledge versus self-deception, sanity versus madness, love versus hate, good versus evil, and the power of obsession and guilt.In this text, Poe explores the boundary between opposites and how they can be crossed (232). The theme of good versus evil, as suggested by Prinsky, can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, the narrator sees himself as the good battling against the evil embodied by the cat. Alternatively, the theme can be seen as the good being represented by the wife and the narrator embodying the evil. Another theme proposed by Prinsky is love versus hate. Initially, the narrator loves the cat but his feelings turn to hate. Conversely, the cat’s love for the narrator turns into hatred after he starts drinking. Obsession and guilt are explored as a driving force towards madness. The narrator’s obsessive behavior towards the cat and guilt for mistreating it ultimately lead him to kill it despite his genuine love for it. Lastly, there is a theme questioning whether people are inherently mad or if they are driven into madness. Initially, we perceive the narrator as mad due to his obsessive tendencies but later question this perception as we see his affection for animals. However, it is through his excessive drinking that he descends into madness, suggesting he was driven to it. [Source: 232]According to Davidson, the theme of perverseness in “The Black Cat” is represented by the soul’s unfathomable longing to do wrong for wrong’s sake (190). Gargano, however, disagrees and argues that the narrator’s pride in his self-control contradicts this theme. In my opinion, the most appropriate theme for this story is the destructive effects of “Fiend Intemperance,” which leads to the narrator’s downfall. As the narrator succumbs to alcoholism, his loving nature transforms into insanity and violence. Poe skillfully uses point of view, symbolism, foreshadowing, and theme to portray the reasons behind the narrator’s actions. Although the narrator claims he is not mad, it becomes evident that his insanity was caused by his own actions and drinking. The story delves into the irrational urge to kill and the underlying fear that ultimately leads to suicide. In a nutshell, this portrayal encapsulates the entirety of the narrator’s life and tragically, his demise. Poe is a serious artist who intelligently delves into every aspect of his characters.The story “The Black Cat” allows the narrator to reveal and undergo torment, but the deeper meaning behind it transcends the torment it brings (Gargano 170). Without recognizing the four main literary devices employed in this story, we would not fully grasp Poe’s intended message that anyone can be driven to madness, and the narrator is no exception (Buranelli 76-77).

Works Cited:
Buranelli, Vincent. Edgar Allan Poe: Second Edition. Boston: Twanyne Publishers, 1977. 76-77.

Davidson, Edward H. Poe: A Critical Study. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957. 190.

The work “The Question of Poe’s Narrators” by James W. Gargano can be found in the book “POE: A Collection of Critical Essays”, edited by Robert Regan. The specific page range is 169-171 and the publication was released by Prentice Hall in 1967.

Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1972.

May, Charles E. Edgar Allan Poe: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991. 78.

Edgar Allan Poe wrote “The Black Cat” which was edited by Martha Womack and can be found online at http://www.poedecoder.com/Qrisse/works/blackcat.html.

Prinsky, Norman. “The Black Cat.” Masterplots II: Short Story Series. Ed. Frank N. Magil. Vol. 1. Pasadena: Salem Press, 1986. 231-34.

Womack, Martha. “Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’.” n.page. Online. Internet. 2 August 1998. Available http://www.poedecoder.com/essays/blackcat.

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A Glimpse Into the World of “The Black Cat”. (2018, Nov 25). Retrieved from


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