The Black Cat


Author: Edgar Allan Poe

In the diverse literary heritage of Edgar Poe, an important place was occupied by the novelistic genre, of which he was an unsurpassed master. The writer was the first in the history of American literature to theoretically comprehend the “short story” as an independent genre. He expressed his theory of the novelistic composition and confirmed that a novelist should be distinguished by impeccable literary taste, the originality of the literary manner, and the truthfulness of situations.

Poe’s Stylistic Manner

Edgar Allan Poe was very interested in the motives of human actions and the secret depths of the soul, the existence of which many people do not even suspect. In many stories, he explores the issue called the spirit of contradiction, a kind of split personality. He was worried by the question: why does a human often act contrary to his obvious desires and even benefit, how does it turn out that the criminal wants to be exposed or why does a decent and kind person commit a crime?

The main features of his novels are as follows:

  • the writer believed that the possibilities of the human mind are endless and glorified its moral power
  • the struggle of the mind of a human with the “dangerous” passed with varying success; the victories of the mind and of the “dark forces” were alternating;
  • an unbelievable story, a terrible and mysterious atmosphere surrounding the characters; and at the same time, the events backed up by hundreds of details from real life create an impression that every story was real;
  • the theme of the disintegration of human relationships (often family ones), insanity and death;
  • the core principle is the logical analysis of events.

The Black Cat Plot

The Black Cat is one of the most famous stories in the horror genre written by Poe. It was published first on August 19, 1843, in the weekly The Saturday Evening Post.

The narrative is told by an alcoholic who, under the influence of hot drinks, does not control his behavior and falls into fits of insane anger. His first victim is a domestic pet, his black cat.

Once, having come home drunk, he commits a cruel deed: he cuts the eye of the cat. At first, his conscience torments him; he feels that he really loves his cat. But at the same time he experiences growing irritation and hatred, and one day he hangs the cat. He does it in another fit, bursting into tears, suffering from split feelings. The same night his house explodes in an inexplicable manner: he finds the silhouette of the hanged cat on the only surviving wall.

When the narrator grows to repent of his cruelty, in the tavern he sees a cat that looks very similar to Pluto, the one he owned. The only difference from the first cat is that it has a white spot on its chest. Taking him home, the narrator initially treats the cat in a friendly manner, but it does not last long. The following morning, he discovers that the cat does not have the same eye Pluto was missing; after that the narrator tries to avoid the cat, without causing pain to it. Over time, the narrator notices that the stain on the cat’s chest takes the form of a gallows. The cat becomes more and more attached to his master, but the narrator, on the contrary, tries to avoid it.

When the owner goes to the cellar, the cat follows him. At that moment the protagonist feels a fit of rage, lifts an ax over the cat, but his wife stops him. In a fit of fury, he lowers the ax on her head. He hides the body in the cellar wall.

A few days later, while the police are inspecting the house, nothing speaks of his guilt. In a fit of complacency, he boasts of the quality of the walls before the police and knocks on the wall behind which his wife is buried. In response, a wild scream is heard. The police dismantle the wall and find behind it the corpse of his wife and a meowing cat next to her.

The story “The Black Cat” is permeated with a single thought: retribution is already hidden in the crime, and terrible cruelty can be hidden in a normal person. No one understands people, and least of all a person understands himself. In order to save the soul, one needs to “clean” its wrong deeds, as sometimes it is possible to see terrible intentions and abilities there.

Main characters:

Pluto — the cat — is the protagonist’s favorite pet and playmate. The narrator was the one who fed him, and the cat attended him wherever he went about the house. The narrator even experienced difficulty in preventing the animal from following him through the streets.

The Narrator –  is a man who has major issues. This unnamed character is an abusive bully and a murderer. He made his home a living hell for his wife, pets, and himself. He is writing to us from his prison cell, on the eve of his scheduled death by hanging. In addition to the details of his heinous crimes, he describes his psychological transformation from a nice man to a villain. He tells us that around the time he murdered his wife, all “good” had been driven from his personality.

“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”.


Related essays: