"The Black Cat" Study Guide

Edgar Allen Poe's Dark Tale of Descent Into Madness

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"The Black Cat," one of  Edgar Allan Poe 's most memorable stories, is a classic example of the gothic literature genre that debuted in the Saturday Evening Post on August 19, 1843. Written in the form of a first-person narrative, Poe employed multiple themes of insanity, superstition, and alcoholism to impart a palpable sense of horror and foreboding to this tale, while at the same time, deftly advancing his plot and building his characters. It's no surprise that "The Black Cat" is often linked with "The Tell-Tale Heart," since both of Poe's stories share several disturbing plot devices including murder and damning messages from the grave—real or imagined.

Plot Summary

The nameless protagonist/narrator begins his story by letting the readers know that he was once a nice, average man. He had a pleasant home, was married to a pleasant wife, and had an abiding love for animals. All that was to change, however, when he fell under the influence of demon alcohol. The first symptom of his descent into addiction and eventual madness manifests with his escalating maltreatment of the family pets. The only creature to escape the man's initial wrath is a beloved black cat named Pluto, but one night after a serious bout of heavy drinking, Pluto angers him for some minor infraction, and in a drunken fury, the man seizes the cat, which promptly bites him. The narrator retaliates by cutting out one of the Pluto's eyes.

While the cat's wound eventually heals, the relationship between the man and his pet has been destroyed. Eventually, the narrator, filled with self-loathing, comes to detest the cat as a symbol of his own weakness, and in a moment of further insanity, hangs the poor creature by the neck from a tree beside the house where it's left to perish. Shortly thereafter, the house burns down. While the narrator, his wife, and a servant escape, the only thing left standing is a single blackened interior wall—on which, to his horror, the man sees the image of a cat hanging by a noose around its neck. Thinking to assuage his guilt, the protagonist begins searching out a second black cat to replace Pluto. One night, in a tavern, he eventually finds just such a cat, which accompanies him to the house he now shares with his wife, albeit under greatly reduced circumstances.

Soon enough, the madness—abetted by gin—returns. The narrator begins not only to detest the new cat—which is always underfoot—but to fear it. What remains of his reason keeps him from harming the animal, until the day the man's wife asks him to accompany her on an errand to the cellar. The cat runs ahead, nearly tripping his master on the stairs. The man becomes enraged. He picks up an ax, meaning to murder the animal, but when his wife grabs the handle to stop him, he pivots, killing her with a blow to the head.

Rather than break down with remorse, the man hastily hides his wife's body by walling it up with bricks behind a false facade in the cellar. The cat that's been tormenting him seems to have disappeared. Relieved, he begins to think he's gotten away with his crime and all will finally be well–until the police eventually show up to search the house. They find nothing but as they're headed up the cellar stairs preparing to leave, the narrator stops them, and with false bravado, he boasts how well the house is built, tapping on the wall that's hiding the body of his dead wife. From within comes a sound of unmistakable anguish. Upon hearing the cries, the authorities demolish the false wall, only to find the wife's corpse, and on top of it, the missing cat. "I had walled the monster up within the tomb!" he wails—not realizing that in fact, he and not the cat, is the actual villain of the story.

Symbols are a key component of Poe's dark tale, particularly the following ones.

  • The black cat:  More than just the title character, the black cat is also an important symbol. Like the bad omen of legend, the narrator believes Pluto and his successor have led him down the path toward insanity and immorality. 
  • Alcohol: While the narrator begins to view the black cat as an outward manifestation of everything the narrator views as evil and unholy, blaming the animal for all his woes, it is his addiction to drinking, more than anything else, that seems to be the true reason for the narrator's mental decline.
  • House and home: " Home sweet home" is supposed to be a place of safety and security, however, in this story, it becomes a dark and tragic place of madness and murder. The narrator kills his favorite pet, tries to kill its replacement, and goes on to kill his own wife. Even the relationships that should have been the central focus of his healthy and happy home fall victim to his deteriorating mental state. 
  • Prison: When the story opens, the narrator is physically in prison, however, his mind was already imprisoned by the shackles of madness, paranoia, and alcohol-induced delusions long before he was apprehended for his crimes. 
  • The wife: The wife could have been a grounding force in the narrator's life. He describes her as having "that humanity of feeling." Rather than saving him, or at least escaping with her own life, she becomes a horrible example of innocence betrayed. Loyal, faithful, and kind, she never leaves her husband no matter how low he sinks into the depths of depravity. Instead, it is he who is in a sense unfaithful to his marriage vows. His mistress, however, is not another woman, but rather his obsession with drinking and the inner demons his drinking unleashes as symbolically personified by the black cat. He forsakes the woman he loves—and eventually kills her because he can't break the hold of his destructive obsession.

Major Themes

Love and hate are two key themes in the story. The narrator at first loves his pets and his wife, but as madness takes hold of him, he comes to loathe or dismiss everything that should be of the utmost importance to him. Other major themes include:

  • Justice and truth:  The narrator tries to hide the truth by walling up his wife's body but the voice of the black cat helps bring him to justice.
  • Superstition:  The black cat is an omen of bad luck, a theme that runs throughout literature. 
  • Murder and death:  Death is the central focus of the entire story. The question is what causes the narrator to become a killer.
  • Illusion versus reality:  Does the alcohol release the narrator's inner demons, or is it merely an excuse for his horrendous acts of violence? Is the black cat merely a cat, or something embued with a greater power to bring about justice or exact revenge?
  • Loyalty perverted: A pet is often seen as a loyal and faithful partner in life but the escalating hallucinations the narrator experiences propel him into murderous rages, first with Pluto and then with the cat the replaces him. The pets he once held in highest affection become the thing he most loathes. As the man's sanity unravels, his wife, whom he also purports to love, becomes someone who merely inhabits his home rather than shares his life. She ceases to be a real person, and when she does, she is expendable. When she dies, rather than feel the horror of killing someone he cares for, the man's first response is to hide the evidence of his crime.

Poe's use of language enhance the story's chilling impact. His stark prose is the reason this and other of his tales have endured. Key quotes from Poe's work echo its themes.

On reality vs. illusion:

"For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief." 

On loyalty:

"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." 

On superstition:

"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." 

On alcoholism:

"...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." 

On transformation and descent into insanity:

"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 fiber of my frame." 
"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." 
"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." 

Questions for Study and Discussion

Once students have read "The Black Cat," teachers can use the following questions to spark discussion or as the basis for an exam or written assignment:

  • Why do you think Poe chose "The Black Cat" as the title for this story?
  • What are the major conflicts? What types of conflict (physical, moral, intellectual, or emotional) do you see in this story?
  • What does Poe do to reveal character in the story?
  • What are some themes in the story?
  • How does Poe employ symbolism?
  • Is the narrator consistent in his actions? Is he a fully developed character?
  • Do you find the narrator likable? Would you want to meet him?
  • Do you find the narrator reliable? Do you trust what he says to be true?
  • How would you describe the narrator's relationship with animals? How does it differ from his relationships with people?
  • Does the story end the way you expected it to?
  • What is the central purpose of the story? Why is this purpose important or meaningful?
  • Why is the story usually considered a work of horror literature?
  • Would you consider this appropriate reading for Halloween?
  • How essential is setting to the story? Could the story have taken place anywhere else?
  • What are some of the controversial elements of the story? Were they necessary?
  • What is the role of women in the text?
  • Would you recommend this story to a friend?
  • If Poe had not ended the story as he did, what do you think might have happened next?
  • How have views on alcoholism, superstition, and insanity changed since this story was written?
  • How might a modern writer approach a similar story?
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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. (2022, June 11). 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 , 11 June 2022, ivypanda.com/essays/edgar-poes-the-black-cat-review/.

IvyPanda . (2022) 'Narration and Symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat"'. 11 June.

IvyPanda . 2022. "Narration and Symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat"." June 11, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/edgar-poes-the-black-cat-review/.

1. IvyPanda . "Narration and Symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat"." June 11, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/edgar-poes-the-black-cat-review/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . "Narration and Symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat"." June 11, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/edgar-poes-the-black-cat-review/.

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The Black Cat

By edgar allan poe, the black cat study guide.

" The Black Cat " by Edgar Allan Poe was first published in 1843 in an edition of the long-running periodical The Saturday Evening Post and subsequently included in The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (1845). The short story is acclaimed for its probing of insanity, unreliable narration, symbolism, and creeping suspense; nevertheless, the lurid tale, while respected by most scholars and acknowledged as a literary classic, does not always share the prominence of Poe's more popular tales, such as his 1846 short story "The Cask of Amontillado" and its 1839 predecessor " The Fall of the House of Usher ."

The publication of Tales garnered a variety of contemporary critical responses. Rufus Griswold wrote that Poe possessed “a great deal of imagination and fancy” and said it was Poe’s tales that made his reputation. Fellow writer Nathaniel Hawthorne said he could “never fail to recognize [the] force and originality” of Poe’s stories. Lewis Gaylord Clark hated Poe as a man, but he admitted he had “constructive faculty,” “remarkable ingenuity," and “vivid imagination.” Henry B. Hirst said he was “unrivalled as a prose writer.” On the other hand, the North American Review saw the tales as “belonging to the forcible-feeble and the shallow-profound school.”

The widespread attention "The Black Cat" received in its own time inspired numerous parodies, most notably by Thomas Dunn English in his 1844 short story "The Ghost of the Grey Tadpole." He was later renounced by Poe, who called English "a bullet-headed and malicious villain" in a letter.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the story has been adapted numerous times into nearly every genre, including film, theater productions, audio recordings, and television.

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The Black Cat Questions and Answers

The Question and Answer section for The Black Cat is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.

the black cat

He sees the black cat.

Write down all the main events that happened in the story' the black cat part 2' ?

I don't know about part 1 or part 2. I just read it as a whole story. You can check out the general summary below:

https://www.gradesaver.com/the-black-cat/study-guide/summary

It's Pluto, mate

Michael Moore

Study Guide for The Black Cat

The Black Cat study guide contains a biography of Edgar Allan Poe, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

  • About The Black Cat
  • The Black Cat Summary
  • Character List

Essays for The Black Cat

The Black Cat essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe.

  • Damn Cat: The Blasphemous Spirituality of Poe's The Black Cat
  • The Unpredictable Map: Unreliable Narration in "The Black Cat"
  • Edgar Allan Poe's Gothic Elements
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  • Eyes as a Reflection of the Self in Poe's Short Fiction

Wikipedia Entries for The Black Cat

  • Introduction
  • Publication history
  • Adaptations

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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

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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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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.

Introduction

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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Summary: “the black cat”.

“The Black Cat” is a Gothic horror tale by Edgar Allan Poe, who relies on supernatural elements to portray the dark side of human nature. The tale was first published in The Saturday Evening Post in August 1843 and examines The Sources of Sin , The Consequences of Alcohol Addiction , and Science Versus the Supernatural through the lens of an unreliable narrator .

This study guide refers to the version of “The Black Cat” published in The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (Vintage Books, September 1975).

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Content Warning : This short story contains depictions of animal cruelty, alcohol addiction, domestic violence, and mental illness.

An unnamed narrator indicates he is to be executed the next day and promises to tell his tale, cautioning that it is both “homely” and “wild.” He says he will present the mysterious events “plainly, succinctly, and without comment” (223), leaving their interpretation up to future readers. Though his story terrifies him, a “more logical” mind may find it completely ordinary or detect a chain of cause and effect.

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The narrator describes his youth and early affinity toward animals, for which he is mocked by his peers and indulged by his parents with various pets. He compares the unreliable nature of humans with the steadfastness of his animal companions. He marries young, and his wife shares his disposition toward animals, gifting him a large black cat that is both “beautiful” and “sagacious to an astonishing degree” (223).

The cat, Pluto, becomes a favorite pet and accompanies the narrator around the house and often in the streets. His wife continually makes half-serious references to the folk belief that black cats are witches in disguise. Over time, the narrator’s growing dependency on alcohol causes his temperament to change toward his pets and his wife, and he begins physically abusing both. His ill treatment finally extends even to the beloved Pluto. The narrator returns home intoxicated, senses that Pluto is avoiding him, and cruelly removes the creature’s eye with a penknife—an act he attributes to the “unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself —to offer violence to its nature—to do wrong for wrong’s sake only” (225). The same spirit eventually leads him to hang the creature, weeping as he does so and feeling that he is damned.

On the night of Pluto’s murder, the narrator is awoken from sleep by his house burning down. He and his wife narrowly escape alive. The next day, the narrator visits the burned-down house and finds neighbors gathered near the one remaining wall, which bears the image of a cat with a noose around its neck. He rationalizes the image as a bizarre chemical reaction and supposes a neighbor threw the animal’s body into the house to alert the residents to the fire.

The narrator begins to long for another feline companion, which he one night finds while drinking in a less-than-reputable haunt. He inquires after the creature and discovers it does not belong to the landlord. It is exceedingly affectionate toward him and resembles the deceased Pluto, even missing one eye; however, the cat has a large shock of white fur covering its chest.

Upon bringing the new cat home, the narrator grows to dislike and avoid it, even though the creature tries to accompany the narrator everywhere. The narrator resists his longing to be cruel because he dreads the cat and associates it with his actions toward Pluto. He then notices that the splotch of white fur now resembles a gallows. The narrator feels insulted that this prophetic image is being presented by the medium of the cat—a mere “beast” where the narrator, as a human, is made in God’s image.

The narrator and his wife are descending into the cellar of their new home when the cat follows, nearly tripping the narrator. In retaliation, he grabs an ax and impulsively attempts to strike it. His wife interrupts him, so he turns the ax on her and murders her with a blow to the head. He strategizes various macabre methods of disposing of his wife’s corpse and does not consider the cat again until he has plastered the corpse inside a recently reconstructed portion of cellar wall. The cat goes missing, but the narrator greets its disappearance with relief.

The police eventually come to question the narrator about his missing wife, and he allays their suspicions until he vainly boasts of how well constructed the house is, arrogantly knocking on the wall where his wife is entombed. The cat’s “wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell” sounds like a human child and alerts the police to tear down the wall (229). The decayed corpse of the narrator’s wife is found, the cat sitting upon its head.

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Exploring dark themes in edgar allan poe's "the black cat".

Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Black Cat" is a chilling and thought-provoking tale that delves into the darkest corners of the human psyche. Through a series of disturbing events, Poe explores themes of guilt, madness, and the destructive power of one's own vices. In...

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Unique Elements Used in The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe Edgar

Allan Poe was born in 1809 and died in 1849. He is an American writer, editor, and literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is widely known as a central figure...

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Symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe's Short Story The Black Cat

'The Black Cat' by Edgar Allan Poe is one of his most prominent writing that exemplifies his check subjects of death, mercilessness, and haziness. Poe's essential character begins his depiction of his frightful terrible practices. Poe sees them as 'arrangement of negligible family unit occasions'....

The Horrific Works of Edgar Allan Poe: The Black Cat & The Tell Tale Heart

Edgar Allan Poe is an American writer best known for his poetry and short stories ; mainly his darker ones. Poe is the all time master of fear, for fear makes Poe unforgettable. Poe lived a sad life due to the fact those he loved...

Best topics on The Black Cat

1. Exploring Dark Themes in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat”

2. “The Black Cat” and “The Cask of Amontillado”: Literary Analysis

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4. Symbolismin Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat

5. Unique Elements Used in The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe Edgar

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Should college essays touch on race? Some feel the affirmative action ruling leaves them no choice

CHICAGO — When she started writing her college essay, Hillary Amofa told the story she thought admissions offices wanted to hear. About being the daughter of immigrants from Ghana and growing up in a small apartment in Chicago. About hardship and struggle.

Then she deleted it all.

“I would just find myself kind of trauma-dumping,” said the 18-year-old senior at Lincoln Park High School in Chicago. “And I’m just like, this doesn’t really say anything about me as a person.”

When the Supreme Court ended affirmative action in higher education, it left the college essay as one of few places where race can play a role in admissions decisions. For many students of color, instantly more was riding on the already high-stakes writing assignment. Some say they felt pressure to exploit their hardships as they competed for a spot on campus.

Amofa was just starting to think about her essay when the court issued its decision, and it left her with a wave of questions. Could she still write about her race? Could she be penalized for it? She wanted to tell colleges about her heritage but she didn’t want to be defined by it.

In English class, Amofa and her classmates read sample essays that all seemed to focus on some trauma or hardship. It left her with the impression she had to write about her life’s hardest moments to show how far she’d come. But she and some of her classmates wondered if their lives had been hard enough to catch the attention of admissions offices.

“For a lot of students, there’s a feeling of, like, having to go through something so horrible to feel worthy of going to school, which is kind of sad,” said Amofa, the daughter of a hospital technician and an Uber driver.

This year’s senior class is the first in decades to navigate college admissions without affirmative action . The Supreme Court upheld the practice in decisions going back to the 1970s, but this court’s conservative supermajority found it is unconstitutional for colleges to give students extra weight because of their race alone.

Still, the decision left room for race to play an indirect role: Chief Justice John Roberts wrote universities can still consider how an applicant’s life was shaped by their race, “so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability.”

“A benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination,” he wrote.

Scores of colleges responded with new essay prompts asking about students’ backgrounds. Brown University asked applicants how “an aspect of your growing up has inspired or challenged you.” Rice University asked students how their perspectives were shaped by their “background, experiences, upbringing, and/or racial identity.”

WONDERING IF SCHOOLS 'EXPECT A SOB STORY'

When Darrian Merritt started writing his essay, he knew the stakes were higher than ever because of the court’s decision. His first instinct was to write about events that led to him going to live with his grandmother as a child.

Those were painful memories, but he thought they might play well at schools like Yale, Stanford and Vanderbilt.

“I feel like the admissions committee might expect a sob story or a tragic story,” said Merritt, a senior in Cleveland. “And if you don’t provide that, then maybe they’re not going to feel like you went through enough to deserve having a spot at the university. I wrestled with that a lot.”

He wrote drafts focusing on his childhood, but it never amounted to more than a collection of memories. Eventually he abandoned the idea and aimed for an essay that would stand out for its positivity.

Merritt wrote about a summer camp where he started to feel more comfortable in his own skin. He described embracing his personality and defying his tendency to please others. The essay had humor — it centered on a water gun fight where he had victory in sight but, in a comedic twist, slipped and fell. But the essay also reflects on his feelings of not being “Black enough” and getting made fun of for listening to “white people music.”

“I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to write this for me, and we’re just going to see how it goes,’” he said. “It just felt real, and it felt like an honest story.”

The essay describes a breakthrough as he learned “to take ownership of myself and my future by sharing my true personality with the people I encounter. ... I realized that the first chapter of my own story had just been written.”

A RULING PROMPTS PIVOTS ON ESSAY TOPICS

Like many students, Max Decker of Portland, Oregon, had drafted a college essay on one topic, only to change direction after the Supreme Court ruling in June.

Decker initially wrote about his love for video games. In a childhood surrounded by constant change, navigating his parents’ divorce, the games he took from place to place on his Nintendo DS were a source of comfort.

But the essay he submitted to colleges focused on the community he found through Word is Bond, a leadership group for young Black men in Portland.

As the only biracial, Jewish kid with divorced parents in a predominantly white, Christian community, Decker wrote he constantly felt like the odd one out. On a trip with Word is Bond to Capitol Hill, he and friends who looked just like him shook hands with lawmakers. The experience, he wrote, changed how he saw himself.

“It’s because I’m different that I provide something precious to the world, not the other way around,” he wrote.

As a first-generation college student, Decker thought about the subtle ways his peers seemed to know more about navigating the admissions process . They made sure to get into advanced classes at the start of high school, and they knew how to secure glowing letters of recommendation.

If writing about race would give him a slight edge and show admissions officers a fuller picture of his achievements, he wanted to take that small advantage.

His first memory about race, Decker said, was when he went to get a haircut in elementary school and the barber made rude comments about his curly hair. Until recently, the insecurity that moment created led him to keep his hair buzzed short.

Through Word is Bond, Decker said he found a space to explore his identity as a Black man. It was one of the first times he was surrounded by Black peers and saw Black role models. It filled him with a sense of pride in his identity. No more buzzcut.

The pressure to write about race involved a tradeoff with other important things in his life, Decker said. That included his passion for journalism, like the piece he wrote on efforts to revive a once-thriving Black neighborhood in Portland. In the end, he squeezed in 100 characters about his journalism under the application’s activities section.

“My final essay, it felt true to myself. But the difference between that and my other essay was the fact that it wasn’t the truth that I necessarily wanted to share,” said Decker, whose top college choice is Tulane, in New Orleans, because of the region’s diversity. “It felt like I just had to limit the truth I was sharing to what I feel like the world is expecting of me.”

SPELLING OUT THE IMPACT OF RACE

Before the Supreme Court ruling, it seemed a given to Imani Laird that colleges would consider the ways that race had touched her life. But now, she felt like she had to spell it out.

As she started her essay, she reflected on how she had faced bias or felt overlooked as a Black student in predominantly white spaces.

There was the year in math class when the teacher kept calling her by the name of another Black student. There were the comments that she’d have an easier time getting into college because she was Black .

“I didn’t have it easier because of my race,” said Laird, a senior at Newton South High School in the Boston suburbs who was accepted at Wellesley and Howard University, and is waiting to hear from several Ivy League colleges. “I had stuff I had to overcome.”

In her final essays, she wrote about her grandfather, who served in the military but was denied access to GI Bill benefits because of his race.

She described how discrimination fueled her ambition to excel and pursue a career in public policy.

“So, I never settled for mediocrity,” she wrote. “Regardless of the subject, my goal in class was not just to participate but to excel. Beyond academics, I wanted to excel while remembering what started this motivation in the first place.”

WILL SCHOOLS LOSE RACIAL DIVERSITY?

Amofa used to think affirmative action was only a factor at schools like Harvard and Yale. After the court’s ruling, she was surprised to find that race was taken into account even at some public universities she was applying to.

Now, without affirmative action, she wondered if mostly white schools will become even whiter.

It’s been on her mind as she chooses between Indiana University and the University of Dayton, both of which have relatively few Black students. When she was one of the only Black students in her grade school, she could fall back on her family and Ghanaian friends at church. At college, she worries about loneliness.

“That’s what I’m nervous about,” she said. “Going and just feeling so isolated, even though I’m constantly around people.”

The first drafts of her essay focused on growing up in a low-income family, sharing a bedroom with her brother and grandmother. But it didn’t tell colleges about who she is now, she said.

Her final essay tells how she came to embrace her natural hair . She wrote about going to a mostly white grade school where classmates made jokes about her afro. When her grandmother sent her back with braids or cornrows, they made fun of those too.

Over time, she ignored their insults and found beauty in the styles worn by women in her life. She now runs a business doing braids and other hairstyles in her neighborhood.

“I stopped seeing myself through the lens of the European traditional beauty standards and started seeing myself through the lens that I created,” Amofa wrote.

“Criticism will persist, but it loses its power when you know there’s a crown on your head!”

Ma reported from Portland, Oregon.

The Associated Press’ education coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org .

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  1. The Black Cat Essay Topics

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  2. The Black Cat Essay Questions

    The Black Cat Essay Questions. 1. How does the climax of the story reflect the narrator's psyche? The revelation of the secrets he has literally and figuratively imprisoned behind the wall and the divulging of the true depths of his menacing and reprehensible nature are simply the culmination of the dark desires that have existed within the ...

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    "The Black Cat," one of Edgar Allan Poe's most memorable stories, is a classic example of the gothic literature genre that debuted in the Saturday Evening Post on August 19, 1843. Written in the form of a first-person narrative, Poe employed multiple themes of insanity, superstition, and alcoholism to impart a palpable sense of horror and foreboding to this tale, while at the same time, deftly ...

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    Choosing The Black Cat Essay Topics. Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat" is a classic gothic short story that has captivated readers for generations. The tale of a man driven to madness by guilt and alcohol, and the sinister black cat that seems to haunt him, provides ample material for analysis and discussion. ...

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    This paper has two sections: the first one is a literary analysis of "The Black Cat" by Allan Poe highlighting the theme of terror, death, and violence, and stylistic devices, such as symbolism, metaphor, and irony. The second part discusses several criticisms leveled against this work by Poe.

  8. Narration and Symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat" Essay (Review)

    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 ...

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    The Black Cat study guide contains a biography of Edgar Allan Poe, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis. ... In his study on this topic, Kent Ljungquist looks into how Poe saw the daemonic impulse as linked with poetic inspiration. Possession in both cases was "a morally ambiguous ...

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    The widespread attention "The Black Cat" received in its own time inspired numerous parodies, most notably by Thomas Dunn English in his 1844 short story "The Ghost of the Grey Tadpole." He was later renounced by Poe, who called English "a bullet-headed and malicious villain" in a letter. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the story has been ...

  11. Example Of Essay On The Black Cat By Edgar Allen Poe

    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 ...

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    Conclusion. 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.

  13. The Black Cat Summary and Study Guide

    Essay Topics. Summary and Study Guide. Summary: "The Black Cat" "The Black Cat" is a Gothic horror tale by Edgar Allan Poe, who relies on supernatural elements to portray the dark side of human nature. The tale was first published in The Saturday Evening Post in August 1843 and examines The Sources of Sin, ...

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  15. The Black Cat Essays & Research Papers

    Essay topics. "The Black Cat" is a chilling and suspenseful short story written by the renowned American author Edgar Allan Poe. This timeless tale delves into the dark recesses of the human psyche. It showcases Poe's mastery in crafting tales of horror and psychological torment.

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    901. "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allen Poe is a morbid story about the change the narrator undergoes and the gruesome and disturbing nature of his behaviors. Through the narrator's development in the story, his behavior can be investigated by using an aspect Sigmund Freud's theory…. 2 Pages 878 Words.

  17. The Black Cat Essay Samples for Students on WritingBros

    Exploring Dark Themes in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat" 2. "The Black Cat" and "The Cask of Amontillado": Literary Analysis. 3. The Black Cat: Africanist Presence Shown Through Violence. 4. Symbolismin Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat. 5. Unique Elements Used in The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe Edgar. 6.

  18. Comprehensive Analysis of The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe

    Topic sentence: For the sentence complexity, I can certainly say that Poe uses complex sentences in his stories as well as in "The Black Cat". Evidence & citing: "Uplifting an axe and forgetting, in my wraith, 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" is a highly ...

  19. Black Cat Essay

    Essay On The Black Cat. Date: 10-12-2017 Language and Composition Group:Turqouise ID: 160020 The Black Cat The story about a man and an antiquity "The Black Cat" something is very old and valuable. The main character Salahadin was trying to find this antiquity to put this in right place. It is like a battle of death to get this antiquity ...

  20. Comparing The Yellow Wallpaper And The Black Cat

    Comparing The Yellow Wallpaper And The Black Cat. Edgar Allen Poe truly deserves the title of the master of psychological horror, based on the unpredictability of the main character and the gruesome moments displayed in "The Black Cat" (Poe 1843/2021). In contrast, the stories "The Hypnotist" (Bierce 1893/2003), and "The Yellow Wallpaper ...

  21. The Main Message in The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe

    Published: May 14, 2021. Read Summary. The theme of the Black Cat is "Your actions can't change you but the way you treat others will make an impact". Edgar thought that if he drank he could change the way that other people look at him, he always felt like he had to make other people view him differently. The author of the Black Cat was ...

  22. Essay Comparing The Yellow Wallpaper And The Black Cat

    In the Literary Eras of Romanticism and Realism, the theme of hysteria is written about in multitude, which is apparent in the two short stories "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Kate Chopin and "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allen Poe. These two short stories highlight the unnamed narrator's descent into insanity. The man and the woman emphasize ...

  23. Should college essays touch on race? Some feel the affirmative action

    a ruling prompts pivots on essay topics Like many students, Max Decker of Portland, Oregon, had drafted a college essay on one topic, only to change direction after the Supreme Court ruling in June.

  24. Mental Issues in 'The Black Cat' and 'The Yellow Wallpaper': [Essay

    The main characters from 'The Black Cat,' written by Edgar Allan Poe and 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, share a mental illness caused by different factors such as alcoholism and isolation' helping us understand the social and moral values of the gothic area as well as some political vales.