The Black Cat
Short Story Analysis: The Black Cat The Black Cat by Edgar Alan Poe is a short story told in a first person narrative, from the point of view of an incarcerated murderer. There are several ways to interpret this story; the reader can also gain insight on the narrator’s state of mind. What I am going to talk about today is how the narrator uses a lot of symbolism and descriptive elements in his story, and in turn, how the reader will interpret the narrator as a person. A few characteristics that will be highlighted are death, psychosis/state of mind of the narrator, and alcoholism.
The narrator admits an alcohol dependency right from the start. “One night, returning home , much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about town…”(2). This gives the reader the impression that it is in the narrator’s normal character to be under the influence. The narrator used alcohol as his reasoning for cutting the black cat’s eye out. He then drinks away his guilt and sins with alcohol, “I again plunged into excess, and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed” (3).
From these statements, the reader can assume that the narrator is an alcoholic and uses that to blur the reality of his decisions. Madness is defined as the state of being mentally ill or extremely foolish behavior. In this story it is apparent that the narrator could very well be mentally unstable. He immediately expressed his fondness for animals, he thought of animals as a “principal sources of pleasure” (2). He later gets pleasure from abusing one of his animals, the black cat, by cutting the cat’s eye out with a knife.
All because he felt the cat was avoiding him. He later hangs the cat, and then constantly feels haunted by his acts. In a way, the narrator seems enticed by his evil actions. “Evil thoughts became my sole intimates-the darkest and most evil of thoughts” (5). The narrator’s last act of evil is the murder of his wife, when he hits her in the head with an axe. He then immediately thinks of ways to cover up the murder. He talks about cutting his wife up into pieces, but later decides that he will hide her body in the brick wall in the cellar of their home.
From this the reader has gone from believing the narrator is just some troubled alcoholic, to believing the narrator is suffering some serious psychosis. There are many faces of death in this story. The first starts with the abuse of the black cat. The narrator comes home drunk and believes the cat is being disobedient so he cuts the cat’s eye out. Later, when his guilt builds up and he can no longer take it, the narrator hangs the cat. He becomes paranoid and believes the cat is haunting him from the grave. 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…among the vile haunts which I now habitually frequented” (4). The next face of death is the cruel and unexpected murder of the narrator’s wife. It becomes apparent that the narrator has a disturbing fascination when carrying out the acts of murder. These actions tie into the narrator’s mental stability.
It is one thing to have thoughts of harming one’s self or others, but it is another thing when those thoughts are acted upon. “My happiness was supreme! The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little” (6). From this the reader can assume that the narrator is a mentally unstable alcoholic murderer. The three main descriptive characteristics that I wanted to highlight about the narrator and the story of The Black Cat are alcoholism, psychosis, and death. With these three elements the reader can pass judgment on the narrator and create an overall opinion of him as a person.
The reader can become first enticed by the story with the narrator talking about his love for animals and then later his cruelty towards them. Next the reader begins to wonder if the narrator is imagining these things, “Upon its head…sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman” (7). Finally the reader can confidently asses their overall impression of the narrator. “Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. But to-morrow I die and to-day I would unburden my soul” (1).