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Example Of Essay On The Black Cat By Edgar Allen Poe

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Illness , Literature , Disease , Cat , Family , Pets , Women , Psychology

Published: 02/02/2020


The short story ‘The Black Cat’ by Edgar Allan Poe can be categorized under the sub-genre Psychological Horror as it is based on events and incidents that take place mainly due to the mental illness that the narrator, who refers himself throughout the story as ‘I’, is going through and has no control over. The story revolves around the idea of how a human mind has the unbelievable capabilities of doing dark and perverse acts that are beyond the imagination. The narrator at the beginning comes out as being a normal person who loves animals and is spending a simple life with his wife. However, later the narrator gets caught in the bad habit of excessive drinking which turns out to be life threatening as he becomes schizophrenic due to immense indulgence in alcohol. The narrator’s belief in superstitions can also be described as he names his black cat, which he and his wife thinks is evil in disguise, as Pluto which is a term used in the Greek mythology for the god of dead. As the story moves on the narrator becomes a possession of aggression and violence and ceases to care even for his beloved ones and all that he loves. The narrator’s bafflement of his situation and unawareness of his violent mental illness can be proven by laying an emphasis on the brutal ways he uses with his black cat and cuts out one of its eye. Although, inside his heart he feels deeply guilty and weeps while doing such merciless acts but being helpless of his situation he gets unstoppable and the urge of perversity start to get intense day by day. Also, another evidence of the perplexity of his mental condition can be shown through the murder of his wife. While murdering his wife he shows no mercy rather he kills her cruelly with an axe with which he wants to kill the second cat in the house which comes after the Pluto he kills Pluto. He feels a psychological confusion and fear from the second cat causes that nervousness him which adds to his mental illness which starts getting worse as the story goes on towards the murder of his wife. He gets hopeless and tremendously violent and also his mind set gets firm on the idea that he is possessed by an evil spirit which is making him do these sins and crimes and being unaware of his mental condition he begins to feel regretful and depressed. As the loss of losing all his loved ones starts to make his mental illness even worse and the guilt starts to kill him inside and take control of all his acts. He leads the police to the exact point of the wall where he has hidden his wife’s dead body that he had murdered which shows that when his mind thinks something he cannot resist from it and is not in control of any of his efforts and mind. Furthermore, coming towards the conclusion it is proven that all the acts and crimes that the narrator takes place are highly in control of his mental illness which is caused by the drinking of alcohol. The story fits in the genre of psychological horror because the author has presented a paradigm of psychological disorder that resulted in brutal murders and mental perplexity of the narrator which involved killing of his own wife whom she loved unconditionally and the deteriorating of his love for animals which is shown when he kills his black cat. This story is a based on psychological issues that the story’s narrator underwent from the beginning till the end of this story by Edgar Allan Poe and that is what makes it recognizable under the category of psychological horror.

Junfeng Z. & Haiyuan L. (2012) The Conflicting Mind Reflected in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” and D. H. Lawrence’s “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter”. 16-17


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Interesting Literature

A Summary and Analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

‘The Black Cat’ was first published in August 1843 in the Saturday Evening Post . It’s one of Poe’s shorter stories and one of his most disturbing, focusing on cruelty towards animals, murder, and guilt, and told by an unreliable narrator who’s rather difficult to like. You can read ‘The Black Cat’ here . Below we’ve offered some notes towards an analysis of this troubling but powerful tale.

First, a brief summary of the plot of ‘The Black Cat’. The narrator explains how from a young age he was noted for his tenderness and humanity, as well as his fondness for animals. When he married, he and his wife acquired a number of pets, including a black cat, named Pluto. But as the years wore on, the narrator became more irritable and prone to snap.

One night, under the influence of alcohol, he sensed the black cat was avoiding him and so chased him and picked up the animal. The animal bit him slightly on the hand, and the narrator – possessed by a sudden rage – took a pen-knife from his pocket and gouged out one of the cat’s eyes.

Although the cat seems to recover from this, the narrator finds himself growing more irritated, until eventually he takes the poor cat out into the garden and hangs it from a tree. Later that night, the narrator wakes to find his house on fire, and he, his wife, and his servant, barely escape alive. All of the narrator’s wealth is lost in the flames.

A crowd has gathered around the smouldering remains of the house. Setting foot in the ruins, the narrator finds the strange figure of a gigantic hanging cat on one of the walls, the dead cat having become embedded in the plaster (the narrator surmises that a member of the crowd had cut down the hanging cat and hurled it into the house to try to wake the narrator and his wife).

A short while after this, the narrator is befriended by a black cat he finds in a local tavern, a cat that has shown up seemingly out of nowhere, and resembles Pluto in every respect, except that this cat has some white among its black fur. The cat takes a shine to the narrator, so he and his wife take it in as their pet.

However, in time the narrator comes to loathe this cat, too, and once, when he nearly trips over the pet while walking downstairs into the cellar, he picks up an axe and aims a blow at the animal’s head. His wife intervenes and stops him – but, in a fit of rage, he buries the axe in his wife’s head, killing her instantly.

He conceals the body, but when the police call round to look into his wife’s disappearance, a sound from the place where the narrator has concealed the body exposes the hidden corpse.

When the body is revealed, the black cat is there – and it was the cat that had made the noise that gave away the location of the corpse. The narrator had walled up the animal when he had hidden his wife’s body. And with this revelation, the narrator’s story comes to an end.

The narrator piques our interest at the beginning of ‘The Black Cat’ by announcing that he dies tomorrow; it becomes clear that he is to be executed (by hanging, aptly, given the fate of his first pet cat) for the murder of his wife.

The ending of ‘The Black Cat’ suggests that a productive analysis between this story and ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ might yield a fruitful discussion. For one, both stories are narrated by murderers who conceal the dead body of their victim, only to have that body discovered at the end of the story.

It was Robert A. Heinlein, a later American author who made his name in the genre that Poe helped to create (science fiction), who remarked: ‘How we behave toward cats here below determines our place in heaven.’ What drives human beings to commit horrible deeds of pointless sadistic cruelty towards defenceless animals?

Whenever we read upsetting stories in the newspapers about people who have committed violent acts upon pets for no discernible reason, we have probably wondered this. Are they all psychopathic?

The narrator of ‘The Black Cat’ seems not to be – for he can recognise that his violent cruelty towards his cat is sadistic and vile, and even recoils in horror when his conscience is pricked and he realises that he is doing wrong. He attributes his violent behaviour towards the cat to ‘perverseness’, arguing that we all do things from time to time purely because we know they’re wrong.

Yet even in the face of his horrific treatment of Pluto – the cat’s name is shared with the Roman god of the Underworld – and his apparent desire to atone for his cruelty with the second pet cat, he ends up lapsing into his old ways and tries to kill the creature for no reason other than that he comes to be annoyed and irritated by it.

But of course, the mention of gin in the story offers a clue as to the cause of the narrator’s violence and irritation. What could cause an otherwise pleasant and humane youth, who grew up loving all animals, to turn into such a brute towards them – and, in time, towards a fellow human being? One answer suggests itself: alcohol.

‘The Black Cat’ can be analysed in light of Poe’s dislike of alcohol: he struggled with alcohol and was prone to drinking bouts which caused him to act erratically, so he knew well the dangers of over-indulging in drink until it begins to alter the drinker’s moods.

The narrator’s growing irritation towards both cats may, then, be a result of his overuse of alcohol. Shortly before his death in 1849 – possibly brought on by the effects of alcohol – Poe became a vocal supporter of temperance. It may be that ‘The Black Cat’ should be analysed as being, among other things, an earlier attempt to dramatise the dangers of drink.

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10 thoughts on “A Summary and Analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’”

The discussion about cruelty to animals makes me, a vegan, raise the question: how does anyone accept the horrible cruelty perpetrated on animals by the thousands every day. I just don’t know how that is acceptable when we understand in reading this story that the mistreatment of one cat is grounds for retribution.


A fair analysis, though I’m not sure it reflects how funny “The Black Cat” can be. At one point, the narrator theorises that the dead cat has been thrown through his window “probably with the view of arousing me from sleep.” A beautiful mental picture.

Also, some of the narrator’s melodramatic anguish sounds funnier when you realise that he is delivering these lines holding a cat.

Incredible analysis. It’s hard to read a poem like this when I am such an animal lover, yet the the mind of human beings who do twisted things to others always turns me into a researcher. I do seek to understand. Repelled and Fascinated at the same time!

Thank you! I know what you mean by repelled and fascinated. As a cat-lover I find it hard to read the account of what happens to the poor creature. But as you say, Poe’s tale offers us a chance to understand (not the same as justifying) his erratic and violent behaviour. A study of a troubled human mind…

Exactly. My nature is to understand first…

Poor first cat. Hangings all very well and might seem to fit the crime, but it’s not an eye for an eye, is it, so could have been more appropriate. But surely his wife’s death was accidental, she threw herself in front of the axe, so no punishment justified.

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Narration and Symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” Essay (Review)

Is it possible to embody the pangs of remorse, terrible sufferings of a soul, mysticism, and all-devouring abyss of evil with the help of words committed to paper? If there is a person endowed by this gift, it is Allan Edgar Poe. Rightful and recognized master of literary horror, Poe has a unique skill of sending shivers down readers’ spine with his awfully realistic depiction of evil and human doom. The Black Cat is a story that presents the author’s formula of destructive power of the sense of guilt combined with human perversity awakened by alcohol addiction with the help of Poe’s unique rhetoric.

The Black Cat is a story of moral decay of the narrator who is lucky to have a happy marriage and a lot of pets, Pluto the cat, “[the narrator’s] favorite pet and playmate” (Poe 249) among them. However, narrator’s kind personality is gradually destroyed by alcohol abuse leading to domestic violence. The starting point of the “succession of very natural causes and effects” (Poe 249) that leads to the narrator’s appearance in a death cell is the change of relationship with Pluto that starts to avoid its master. Such conduct plants the seeds of “PERVERSENESS” (Poe 250) in the narrator’s soul that leads to deliberate putting out the cat’s eye and succeeding hanging of the pet. The tragedy is followed by a sudden burning of the house, mysterious appearance of the cat’s figure on the only wall that remained of the house. There appears one more cat that has a striking resemblance to Pluto. This time, the narrator’s anger leads to the murder of his wife during an attempt of killing the cat. Finally, the murder is revealed due to the cat, though the corpse is hidden in the wall.

The narrator of the story performs the role of the main rhetorical device that ensures the disclosure of the main theme of the story. The narrator can be called an unreliable narrator as he states at the very beginning that he is considered mad though he is not mad and his story is not a nightmare. At the same time, a reader can easily conclude that the man really becomes mentally unstable due to alcohol addiction that awakens aggression, fatalism, and superstitiousness in the author’s soul. A picturesque fact that contributes to overall horror of the story is that Poe puts “much of himself in the story” (Poe et al. 848). Everyone knows about the author’s alcohol addiction and an autobiographic fact of killing a pet belonging to Poe’s foster mother is also known (Poe et al. 848).

Along with the narrator, symbols play a major role in the creation of horror of the story. In fact, The Black Cat abounds in symbols. The black cat itself can be considered one of the major symbols that can be interpreted as fate, revenge, witchcraft. There is an interesting idea that a black cat is a symbol of slavery (Peeples 104). Even the name of the pet, Pluto, is symbolic since it is an allusion to the Roman God of the Underworld who punishes sinners. Besides, the picturesque symbol is gallows that is an instrument of slaughter and the symbol of coming revenge.

In conclusion, it is possible to state that the perfect choice of the narrator and the use of symbols create the horrific magic of The Black Cat . Alcohol addiction is condemned by the author as the source of endless evil. Sense of guilt is presented as the torture and destructive power as the same time.

Works Cited

Peeples, Scott. The Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe . USA: Camden House, 2007.

Poe, Edgar Allan, Mabbott, Thomas Ollive, Kewer, Eleanor D., and Maureen Cobb Mabbott. Tales and Sketches: 1843-1849 . USA: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Black Cat.” Thirty-two Stories . Ed. Stuart Levine and Susan Levin. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 2000. 248-256.

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IvyPanda. (2021, December 13). Narration and Symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat". https://ivypanda.com/essays/edgar-poes-the-black-cat-review/

"Narration and Symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat"." IvyPanda , 13 Dec. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/edgar-poes-the-black-cat-review/.

IvyPanda . (2021) 'Narration and Symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat"'. 13 December.

IvyPanda . 2021. "Narration and Symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat"." December 13, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/edgar-poes-the-black-cat-review/.

1. IvyPanda . "Narration and Symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat"." December 13, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/edgar-poes-the-black-cat-review/.


IvyPanda . "Narration and Symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat"." December 13, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/edgar-poes-the-black-cat-review/.

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The Black Cat Edgar Allan Poe

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the black cat sample essay

Read stories by Edgar Allan Poe at Poestories.com

The Black Cat

by Edgar Allan Poe (published 1845)

    FOR the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not -- and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified -- have tortured -- have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little but Horror -- to many they will seem less terrible than barroques. Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the common-place -- some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.     From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing them. This peculiarity of character grew with my growth, and, in my manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure. To those who have cherished an affection for a faithful and sagacious dog, I need hardly be at the trouble of explaining the nature or the intensity of the gratification thus derivable. There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man.     I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my own. Observing my partiality for domestic pets, she lost no opportunity of procuring those of the most agreeable kind. We had birds, gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat.     This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise. Not that she was ever serious upon this point -- and I mention the matter at all for no better reason than that it happens, just now, to be remembered.      Pluto -- this was the cat's name -- was my favorite pet and playmate. I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me through the streets.     Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years, during which my general temperament and character -- through the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance -- had (I blush to confess it) experienced a radical alteration for the worse. I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others. I suffered myself to use intemperate language to my wife. At length, I even offered her personal violence. My pets, of course, were made to feel the change in my disposition. I not only neglected, but ill-used them. For Pluto , however, I still retained sufficient regard to restrain me from maltreating him, as I made no scruple of maltreating the rabbits, the monkey, or even the dog, when by accident, or through affection, they came in my way. But my disease grew upon me -- for what disease is like Alcohol ! -- and at length even Pluto , who was now becoming old, and consequently somewhat peevish -- even Pluto began to experience the effects of my ill temper.     One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized him; when, in his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My  original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket ! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.     When reason returned with the morning -- when I had slept off the fumes of the night's debauch -- I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty; but it was, at best, a feeble and equivocal feeling, and the soul remained untouched. I again plunged into excess, and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed.     In the meantime the cat slowly recovered. The socket of the lost eye presented, it is true, a frightful appearance, but he no longer appeared to suffer any pain. He went about the house as usual, but, as might be expected, fled in extreme terror at my approach. I had so much of my old heart left, as to be at first grieved by this evident dislike on the part of a creature which had once so loved me. But this feeling soon gave place to irritation. And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of PERVERSENESS. Of this spirit philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart -- one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not ? Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it to be such? This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself -- to offer violence to its own nature -- to do wrong for the wrong's sake only -- that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute. One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree; -- hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart; -- hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because I felt it had given me no reason of offence; -- hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin -- a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it -- if such a thing were possible -- even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.     On the night of the day on which this cruel deed was done, I was aroused from sleep by the cry of fire. The curtains of my bed were in flames. The whole house was blazing. It was with great difficulty that my wife, a servant, and myself, made our escape from the conflagration . The destruction was complete. My entire worldly wealth was swallowed up, and I resigned myself thenceforward to despair.     I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause and effect, between the disaster and the atrocity. But I am detailing a chain of facts -- and wish not to leave even a possible link imperfect. On the day succeeding the fire, I visited the ruins. The walls, with one exception, had fallen in. This exception was found in a compartment wall, not very thick, which stood about the middle of the house, and against which had rested the head of my bed. The plastering had here, in great measure, resisted the action of the fire -- a fact which I attributed to its having been recently spread. About this wall a dense crowd were collected, and many persons seemed to be examining a particular portion of it with very minute and eager attention. The words "strange!" "singular!" and other similar expressions, excited my curiosity. I approached and saw, as if graven in bas relief upon the white surface, the figure of a gigantic cat . The impression was given with an accuracy truly marvellous. There was a rope about the animal's neck.     When I first beheld this apparition -- for I could scarcely regard it as less -- my wonder and my terror were extreme. But at length reflection came to my aid. The cat, I remembered, had been hung in a garden adjacent to the house. Upon the alarm of fire, this garden had been immediately filled by the crowd -- by some one of whom the animal must have been cut from the tree and thrown, through an open window, into my chamber. This had probably been done with the view of arousing me from sleep. The falling of other walls had compressed the victim of my cruelty into the substance of the freshly-spread plaster; the lime of which, with the flames, and the ammonia from the carcass, had then accomplished the portraiture as I saw it.     Although I thus readily accounted to my reason, if not altogether to my conscience, for the startling fact just detailed, it did not the less fail to make a deep impression upon my fancy. For months I could not rid myself of the phantasm of the cat; and, during this period, there came back into my spirit a half-sentiment that seemed, but was not, remorse. I went so far as to regret the loss of the animal, and to look about me, among the vile haunts which I now habitually frequented, for another pet of the same species, and of somewhat similar appearance, with which to supply its place.     One night as I sat, half stupified, in a den of more than infamy, my attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing upon the head of one of the immense hogsheads of Gin, or of Rum, which constituted the chief furniture of the apartment. I had been looking steadily at the top of this hogshead for some minutes, and what now caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner perceived the object thereupon. I approached it, and touched it with my hand. It was a black cat -- a very large one -- fully as large as Pluto , and closely resembling him in every respect but one. Pluto had not a white hair upon any portion of his body; but this cat had a large, although indefinite splotch of white, covering nearly the whole region of the breast.     Upon my touching him, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed against my hand, and appeared delighted with my notice. This, then, was the very creature of which I was in search. I at once offered to purchase it of the landlord; but this person made no claim to it -- knew nothing of it -- had never seen it before.     I continued my caresses, and, when I prepared to go home, the animal evinced a disposition to accompany me. I permitted it to do so; occasionally stooping and patting it as I proceeded. When it reached the house it domesticated itself at once, and became immediately a great favorite with my wife.     For my own part, I soon found a dislike to it arising within me. This was just the reverse of what I had anticipated; but -- I know not how or why it was -- its evident fondness for myself rather disgusted and annoyed. By slow degrees, these feelings of disgust and annoyance rose into the bitterness of hatred. I avoided the creature; a certain sense of shame, and the remembrance of my former deed of cruelty, preventing me from physically abusing it. I did not, for some weeks, strike, or otherwise violently ill use it; but gradually -- very gradually -- I came to look upon it with unutterable loathing, and to flee silently from its odious presence, as from the breath of a pestilence.     What added, no doubt, to my hatred of the beast, was the discovery, on the morning after I brought it home, that, like Pluto , it also had been deprived of one of its eyes. This circumstance, however, only endeared it to my wife, who, as I have already said, possessed, in a high degree, that humanity of feeling which had once been my distinguishing trait, and the source of many of my simplest and purest pleasures.     With my aversion to this cat, however, its partiality for myself seemed to increase. It followed my footsteps with a pertinacity which it would be difficult to make the reader comprehend. Whenever I sat, it would crouch beneath my chair, or spring upon my knees, covering me with its loathsome caresses. If I arose to walk it would get between my feet and thus nearly throw me down, or, fastening its long and sharp claws in my dress, clamber, in this manner, to my breast. At such times, although I longed to destroy it with a blow, I was yet withheld from so doing, partly by a memory of my former crime, but chiefly -- let me confess it at once -- by absolute dread of the beast.     This dread was not exactly a dread of physical evil -- and yet I should be at a loss how otherwise to define it. I am almost ashamed to own -- yes, even in this felon's cell, I am almost ashamed to own -- that the terror and horror with which the animal inspired me, had been heightened by one of the merest chimæras it would be possible to conceive. My wife had called my attention, more than once, to the character of the mark of white hair, of which I have spoken, and which constituted the sole visible difference between the strange beast and the one I had destroyed. The reader will remember that this mark, although large, had been originally very indefinite; but, by slow degrees -- degrees nearly imperceptible, and which for a long time my Reason struggled to reject as fanciful -- it had, at length, assumed a rigorous distinctness of outline. It was now the representation of an object that I shudder to name -- and for this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster had I dared -- it was now, I say, the image of a hideous -- of a ghastly thing -- of the GALLOWS ! -- oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime -- of Agony and of Death !     And now was I indeed wretched beyond the wretchedness of mere Humanity. And a brute beast -- whose fellow I had contemptuously destroyed -- a brute beast to work out for me -- for me a man, fashioned in the image of the High God -- so much of insufferable wo! Alas! neither by day nor by night knew I the blessing of Rest any more! During the former the creature left me no moment alone; and, in the latter, I started, hourly, from dreams of unutterable fear, to find the hot breath of the thing upon my face, and its vast weight -- an incarnate Night-Mare that I had no power to shake off -- incumbent eternally upon my heart !     Beneath the pressure of torments such as these, the feeble remnant of the good within me succumbed. Evil thoughts became my sole intimates -- the darkest and most evil of thoughts. The moodiness of my usual temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind; while, from the sudden, frequent, and ungovernable outbursts of a fury to which I now blindly abandoned myself, my uncomplaining wife, alas! was the most usual and the most patient of sufferers.     One day she accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the cellar of the old building which our poverty compelled us to inhabit. The cat followed me down the steep stairs, and, nearly throwing me headlong, exasperated me to madness. Uplifting an axe, and forgetting, in my wrath, the childish dread which had hitherto stayed my hand, I aimed a blow at the animal which, of course, would have proved instantly fatal had it descended as I wished. But this blow was arrested by the hand of my wife. Goaded, by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain. She fell dead upon the spot, without a groan.     This hideous murder accomplished, I set myself forthwith, and with entire deliberation, to the task of concealing the body. I knew that I could not remove it from the house, either by day or by night, without the risk of being observed by the neighbors. Many projects entered my mind. At one period I thought of cutting the corpse into minute fragments, and destroying them by fire. At another, I resolved to dig a grave for it in the floor of the cellar. Again, I deliberated about casting it in the well in the yard -- about packing it in a box, as if merchandize, with the usual arrangements, and so getting a porter to take it from the house. Finally I hit upon what I considered a far better expedient than either of these. I determined to wall it up in the cellar -- as the monks of the middle ages are recorded to have walled up their victims.     For a purpose such as this the cellar was well adapted. Its walls were loosely constructed, and had lately been plastered throughout with a rough plaster, which the dampness of the atmosphere had prevented from hardening. Moreover, in one of the walls was a projection, caused by a false chimney, or fireplace, that had been filled up, and made to resemble the rest of the cellar. I made no doubt that I could readily displace the bricks at this point, insert the corpse, and wall the whole up as before, so that no eye could detect any thing suspicious.     And in this calculation I was not deceived. By means of a crow-bar I easily dislodged the bricks, and, having carefully deposited the body against the inner wall, I propped it in that position, while, with little trouble, I re-laid the whole structure as it originally stood. Having procured mortar, sand, and hair, with every possible precaution, I prepared a plaster which could not be distinguished from the old, and with this I very carefully went over the new brick-work. When I had finished, I felt satisfied that all was right. The wall did not present the slightest appearance of having been disturbed. The rubbish on the floor was picked up with the minutest care. I looked around triumphantly, and said to myself -- "Here at least, then, my labor has not been in vain."     My next step was to look for the beast which had been the cause of so much wretchedness; for I had, at length, firmly resolved to put it to death. Had I been able to meet with it, at the moment, there could have been no doubt of its fate; but it appeared that the crafty animal had been alarmed at the violence of my previous anger, and forebore to present itself in my present mood. It is impossible to describe, or to imagine, the deep, the blissful sense of relief which the absence of the detested creature occasioned in my bosom. It did not make its appearance during the night -- and thus for one night at least, since its introduction into the house, I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept even with the burden of murder upon my soul!     The second and the third day passed, and still my tormentor came not. Once again I breathed as a freeman. The monster, in terror, had fled the premises forever! I should behold it no more! My happiness was supreme! The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little. Some few inquiries had been made, but these had been readily answered. Even a search had been instituted -- but of course nothing was to be discovered. I looked upon my future felicity as secured.     Upon the fourth day of the assassination, a party of the police came, very unexpectedly, into the house, and proceeded again to make rigorous investigation of the premises. Secure, however, in the inscrutability of my place of concealment, I felt no embarrassment whatever. The officers bade me accompany them in their search. They left no nook or corner unexplored. At length, for the third or fourth time, they descended into the cellar. I quivered not in a muscle. My heart beat calmly as that of one who slumbers in innocence. I walked the cellar from end to end. I folded my arms upon my bosom, and roamed easily to and fro. The police were thoroughly satisfied and prepared to depart. The glee at my heart was too strong to be restrained. I burned to say if but one word, by way of triumph, and to render doubly sure their assurance of my guiltlessness.     "Gentlemen," I said at last, as the party ascended the steps, "I delight to have allayed your suspicions. I wish you all health, and a little more courtesy. By the bye, gentlemen, this -- this is a very well constructed house." (In the rabid desire to say something easily, I scarcely knew what I uttered at all.) -- "I may say an excellently well constructed house. These walls -- are you going, gentlemen? -- these walls are solidly put together;" and here, through the mere phrenzy of bravado, I rapped heavily, with a cane which I held in my hand, upon that very portion of the brick-work behind which stood the corpse of the wife of my bosom.     But may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch-Fiend ! No sooner had the reverberation of my blows sunk into silence, than I was answered by a voice from within the tomb! -- by a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman -- a howl -- a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the dammed in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation.     Of my own thoughts it is folly to speak. Swooning, I staggered to the opposite wall. For one instant the party upon the stairs remained motionless, through extremity of terror and of awe. In the next, a dozen stout arms were toiling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators. Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb!

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E. Poe’s “The Black Cat” Literary Analysis Essay

“I had walled the monster up within the tomb” — this chilling quote comes from Poe’s famous story. Read this The Black Cat literary analysis to learn more about The Black Cat literary devices and themes.


The black cat literary analysis: themes, figurative language in the black cat, foreshowing, works cited.

Alan Poe is one of the writers who advanced dark romanticism in the nineteenth century in America. This subgenre evolved from transcendental philosophy, and it sought to explore the dark side of events or issues. Poe is known for his mad and unbalanced psyche in writing dark and sinister works mainly due to his childhood experiences. The Black Cat is one such dark writing where Poe uses terror and depravity to explore the dark side of a home and how things can go awry. In the story, the narrator starts by highlighting his childhood and his undying love and compassion for animals.

He marries someone equally loving, and they both share many common attributes and life interests. They own a black cat named Pluto, and life seems normal until the narrator sinks into alcoholism, which changes him forever. He starts mistreating his wife and pets without tenable reasons. Ultimately, he kills Pluto, his once-beloved pet, and his wife suffers the same fate later in the story. In The Black Cat , Poe uses metaphor, paradox, symbolism, foreshadowing, irony, repetition, and similes to explore the themes of death, violence, and terror.

Throughout the story of The Black Cat , Poe explores the themes of violence, death, and terror exclusively until the end of the narration. Murder and death are central to the story as the narrator descends into insanity due to alcoholism. The narrator kills his favorite pet, Pluto, and appears to enjoy the process. He parades the audience with a series of gory acts, such as gouging eyes, hanging, and the axing of the innocent cat. Ultimately, he kills his wife in a rage of fury while attempting to kill the second cat that he adopted after murdering Pluto. However, the audience wonders why the author chose to focus on violence, murder, and terror in this story. Poe’s life experiences contributed largely to his obsession with dark romanticism. According to Pruette,

The life of Edgar Allan Poe might be considered an unhappy record of that “disaster” which “followed fast and followed faster” this man of brilliant capacities till it drove him into opposition with most of the world, deprived him of the love he so inordinately craved, paralyzed his creative abilities, seduced him to seek a vague nepenthe in the use of drugs and stimulants, and, its relentless purpose achieved, cast him aside, a helpless wreck, to die from the darkened tragedy of a Baltimore (370).

In other words, in The Black Cat , Poe is retelling his story and how he was mentally tormented by a series of unfortunate occurrences, including the death of his parents and wife. In the story, the narrator becomes an alcoholic, which mirrors the same phenomenon in Poe’s life.

Moldenhauer calls this form of writing “confessional rhetoric,” whereby the narrator-protagonist “introduces or concludes his account with elaborate gestures of self-condemnation, and with dire forecasts of eternal disgrace for his name or perpetual torment for his soul” (285). In The Black Cat , the narrator does not draw a conclusion, and the audience can only assume that he suffered in eternity after the brutal killing of his wife. Poe’s life experiences explain why he chooses to explore the dark side of life in this story by talking about death, terror, and violence.

The Black Cat is rich in metaphors and personification, which are used to underscore how the inner world of the narrator transforms as he sinks into alcoholism and insanity. For instance, the narrator says, “…sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman” (Poe 14). In this case, the narrator is talking about his psychopath tendencies and paranoia, which turned him into a ruthless killer of people and pets dear to him. His guilty conscience is the black cat, which has become a hideous abomination. Additionally, the narrator implies that he would be haunted by his actions forever.

He admits, “I had walled the monster up within the tomb” (Poe 14). The wall mentioned here is for his house, a place where the narrator is supposed to find safety and peace, but he has turned it into a tomb. In other words, his home has become a place for the dead. He has to live with the consequences of his actions, no matter how grim they appear.

Literary Devices in The Black Cat

Symbolism is used extensively in this story, and it underlines hidden messages that contribute to the plot development and the themes of death, violence, and terror. The first symbol is the black cat, which also doubles as the title of the story. Traditionally, black cats symbolize death and darkness together with the gloomy future that the narrator is about to experience. Even his wife, who does not believe in superstition, “made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise” (Poe 4). Additionally, on top of the cat being black, it is named Pluto. In Greek mythology, Pluto was the Roman God of death or hades or the underworld (Richardson and Bowman 5). The cat is also half-blinded, which symbolizes the narrator’s irrationality, probably due to excessive drinking.

The narrator might also be blinded by his guilty conscience. After the black cat is killed, another one appears, but with a white spot, which troubles the narrator. He confesses that the white spot on the new cat is now the “representation of an object that I shudder to name…I loathed, and dreaded…the image of a hideous – of a ghastly thing—of the gallows! – oh, mournful and terrible engine of horror and of crime – of agony and of death” (Poe 10). The white patch is a symbol of the narrator’s evil spirit, which cannot be killed – it has become part of his life, and it will haunt him into eternity.

The first form of irony is situational, where the narrator mentions that he is a humane and timid person. As a child, he was noted for his docility and humanistic disposition. His “tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions” (Poe 3). Ironically, the same person, who once loved animals and spent most of the time caressing and feeding them, becomes a murderer. This turn of events is out of the ordinary – it is ironic. Additionally, he does not kill animals and people for any reasonable cause but for the sheer thrill of doing it. The other form of irony is dramatic, which occurs at both the start and the end of the story.

The narrator opens his narration by saying that his purpose is to tell the world “a series of mere household events” (Poe 3). However, as the story progresses, the audience discovers that the events are out of the ordinary. He kills the black cat bizarrely and takes the audience through the darkest places of his life, which is tormenting. At the end of the story, the narrator is confident that the police will not find the hidden body of his dead wife, as he has stuck it between the walls of the cellar. He brags, “Secure, however, in the inscrutability of my place of concealment, I felt no embarrassment whatever” (Poe 13).

The narrator is assured that the police cannot find out about his secrets. Ironically, noises coming from the very wall that he trusts to keep his secrets lead to the discovery of the hidden body. The agony of the demons that triumph in the damnation has come back to haunt the narrator.

At the start of the story, the narrator foretells that he is about to take the audience through a wild and unbelievable experience. He is about to die tomorrow, and thus he has to unburden his soul today. He is about to face death after the brutal killing of his wife. He talks about “gallows,” which he sees in the white patch of a new cat. These gallows foreshadow how he will die. He would probably be executed through hanging. The narrator also foreshadows the death of his wife. He says, “At length, I even offered her personal violence” (Poe 4). The author reveals to the audience what is about to happen later in the story, albeit subtly.

The author uses paradox with a parallel structure to prepare the audience, albeit subtly, for the dark story that lies ahead. The narrator says, “For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief” (Poe 3). Paradoxically, the story is “wild” and “homely” at the same time. These phrases are almost antonyms, and juxtaposing them in the same sentence implies that the story he is about to tell is not ordinary. Similarly, in the middle of the story, he references the divine as the “most merciful and most terrible God” (Poe 6). Saying that God is merciful and terrible at the same time underscores the narrator’s madness. This paradox highlights the narrator’s troubled and guilty conscience, which contributes centrally to the themes of terror, murder, and violence.

The Black Cat is a chef-d’oeuvre short story by Edgar Alan Poe, which underscores his obsession with dark romanticism that was popularized in nineteenth-century America. The story is eccentric, whereby a hitherto timid and humane person descends into alcoholism and becomes a monster. He kills his beloved cat and wife and derives pleasure from such heinous acts. The themes of death, violence, and terror stand out conspicuously throughout the story.

The author uses irony, metaphor, symbolism, foreshadowing, and paradox as stylistic devices to develop these themes. Poe wrote such dark stories as a reflection of his life. He experienced the loss of his loved ones, which drove him into alcoholism and lost touch with humanity. Poe uses confessional rhetoric to mirror his life experiences in his gothic stories as part of advancing dark romanticism.

Moldenhauer, Joseph. “Murder as a Fine Art: Basic Connections between Poe’s Aesthetics, Psychology, and Moral Vision.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America , vol. 83, no. 2, 1968, pp. 284-297.

Poe, E. Alan. The Black Cat . 1843. Web.

Pruette, Lorine. “A Psycho-Analytical Study of Edgar Allan Poe.” The American Journal of Psychology, vol. 31, no. 4, 1920, pp. 370-402.

Richardson, Adele, and Laurel Bowman. Hades . Capstone Press, 2003.

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The Black Cat

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Construct an argument about the narrator’s mental state throughout the story. How does he rationalize his actions? What role does alcohol addiction play?

Discuss the narrator’s murder of his wife and his motivation beyond the immediate catalyst. Why does he react so violently? What else has his wife done in this tale?

What is the narrator’s attitude toward humanity, and how does it determine his actions in this tale?

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