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The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Transcript of The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
The Narrators Wife
Loyal and Sympathetic (even after the abuse starts)
Large, fuzzy, black cat who was sagacious (intelligent)
Beloved pet turned into abused animal
Might be something other than a cat
Could've been a slave or child
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Poe's Early Life
Born in Boston on January 19,1809
He had a brother named Henry and a sister named Rosaline
Poe's mom died when he was about two after her and her husband was seperated
Poe was adopted by John Allan
John was a successful merchant so Poe was able to attend good schools
Poe went to the University of Virginia but insufficient funds cause him to become a drunk and he dropped out of college
After School to Middle Age
No money or skills, Poe decides to join the Army in 1827 at 18 years old
John Allan signed papers to let Poe into West Point but wouldn't send funds so Poe had to drop out
Poe then traveled to New York to try to get a job at a newspaper
After landing his job, Poe brought his aunt and cousin, Virginia, Richmond where he ended up marrying her.
He was 27 and she was 13.
Middle Age to the Final Days
Poe left the magazine and he tried to work for others but wasn't able to land a job
He finally started working for the Broadway Journal
Virginia died in 1847 and Poe collapsed from stress
He meet a new woman and started traveling around and was later found in a hotel at Gunner's Hall
He was taken to a hospital and later died on October 7, 1849.
The beginning of the story starts out with the narrator in a jail cell the day before he is about to be hanged. He says that wants to let the reader know what events took place that got him into this predicament. The narrator says that he since the day he was born that he has been mild and kind and these qualities flourished as he got older. He marries a woman that shares his likeness for pets and they share a home with a plethora of pets. His favorite was a black cat named Pluto. The narrator starts drinking and his personality traits change to a hateful person. He begins to abuse his wife and pets verbally and physically. One night coming home drunk, he feels like the cat is ignoring him so he grabs it. The cat defends itself by biting his hand and only angered the narrator who took a pen knife and removed one of the cats eyes. A few days later, he is overcame by a perverse impulse and guilt and decides to hang the hang from a tree in the garden even though he knew it was wrong. The night of the hanging, his room caught on fire and he loses everything. The next day he returns and sees a cat with a rope around his neck on the one wall left standing of the house.
The figure on the wall disturbed the man. One night on his way home from the bar, he finds a black cat that looks like Pluto except he has a white patch on his chest. He brings the cat home to his wife who is pleased. The spot on the cats chest began to shift in the mans' mind and it began to look like the gallows. The narrator begins to despise the cat but is afraid to abuse it. The cat doesn't leave his side and often tries to lay on the narrators as he is trying to sleep. So he is not getting any sleep and his abuse towards his wife escalates. One day, the narrator and his wife go down into the cellar and the cat tries to trip the narrator. Out of anger, he tries to strike the cat with an ax that he is holding. The wife defends the cat. Out of impluse, he burys the axe into wifes' head.
After much deliberation, the narrator decides to conceal the body in the wall in the cellar. The narrator is able to sleep soundly for the first time in months. Cops come around the house but don't find anything suspicious. The narrator has been looking for the cat and by the fourth day, the cops come back around and even went down into the cellar. Whenever he believes that he has gotten away with murder; he hits the wall where his wife is buried with his cane and a noise from the wall emerges. It sounds eery and like a child screeching. The cops tear down the wall and find the wifes' body with the cat on her head. The narrator buried the cat in there with her and gave away to his crime. This is why he is in jail and is sentenced to death by hanging.
The Second Cat
Looks exactly like Pluto except for a white spot on his chest
Later looks like a gallows to the narrator
Follows the narrator around and later gives the hiding place of wife away.
Just showed up and were persistent till they found the wifes' body
Young and Bachelorhood
Was a kind and mellow child who loved animals
This could mean that he was antisocial or bullied as child so he turned to animals for companionship
Marries a woman who is also an animal lover
The thought of him being a good guy could leave you to feel sorry for him and possibility that he could return to that behavior
The Married Life
The man meets a woman and marries her and all the reader knows is that they share a common love for animals
No reason is given for his drinking problem, so it might be inferred that he isn't happy with her and takes his unhappiness out on the animals as well as her
The narrator never once complains about his wife
He seemed to spend time away from the house to get drunk which also could infer that he isn't happy home
The Fiend Intemperance
Temperate means to avoid alcohol. Intemperant means the complete opposite. The narrator turns to alcohol after getting married in which his attitude and personality to switch to abusive.
The Spirit of Perserveness
Perverseness, according to the narrator, is what makes people do things that they know is bad for themselves and others. The narrator suggests that this is part of human nature. This is what the narrator blames when he kills Pluto for no reason. He did it just because he knew it was bad.
The story starts out with the narrator in a jail cell with the ability to transpire the events that lead him to this point is one of his last freedoms.
The narrator, his wife, and their pets all lived in a nice, wealthy home where all the wealth of the family was kept like most families in the mid 1800s.
When the house burns down, so does the wealth of the family so it forces them to live in a house much smaller.
An Interesting Note
The important of "walls" in this story. The constant of rebuilding and tearing down walls shows us what the narrator is doing to himself literally and psychologically. In the beginning, the narrator had freedom with privacy etc. When he was arrested, he loses the right to privacy. Also, the story is always moving to more confined spaces with the cellar being the most confined space. It reflects the psychological confinement of the narrtor which tapes into his deepest fears. The cellar is under the rest of the house. If the setting reflects the consciousness of the man (and other characters) the cellar echoes his subconscious. (Sub means under.) The unconscious is supposed to be that seething pool of desires and fears that lurk beneath the surface of our conscious thoughts. While in the cellar, all the man's deepest fears and desire culminate in the murder of his wife.
The story offers a sinister outlook on married couples at home. Things are good during the beginning until things start going wrong. The home, which is suppose to be safe, turns into a home of abuse. The narrator shows us how he destroyed his life with his own hands.
The narrator shows a lot acts of violence. Acts such as eye gouging, hanging, and axing are the highlights. The accounts of violence are directed towards the wife but mostly on the cat, Pluto, who was a pampered pet turned into persecuted beast. His violence towards his other wife and other pets are vague but by the end of the story; narrator completely destroys his family and himself in the process. Violence is an insidious beast that creeps, spreads, and destroys all the bodies and minds that are involved.
Drugs and Alcohol
Some stories pose positive and negative effects of drinking. Not in Poe's stories. The grim tale of the narrator abusing his wife and pets all start with his uncontrollable drinking problem, changing his personality. During Poe's time, the "Temperance" movement was big. Temperance meaning sobriety. Alcohol fades away at the end of the story suggesting its one of the fewer problems that lead to the narrators destruction.
Freedom and Confinement
The story is a tale of martial life going wrong which leads from freedom to confinement. The narrator is in a prison cell where he is writing to free himself from his bonds, the bonds of the cell and the bonds confining of his mind and heart. He traps his wife and pets in a cycle of abuse that ultimately confines the narrator to a prison cell and his mentality shrinks.
Justice and Judgment
Justice and judgment are key in this story even from the beginning when we find the narrator in his jail cell. At Poe's time, it wasn't illegal to abuse ones' wife or animals. The story questions the ideas of justice and judgment, reflects the turbulent state of the rights of women, slaves, children, etc were highly contested issues.
Disturbing physical and psychological that are often bad, are common in Gothic tales. The narrator changes alot mentally in the story. The narrator is constantly transforming into a darker person from the beginning of the story.
"The Night Mare"
This becomes apparent when the second makes its apperance. The "Night Mare" in Poe's words is "The Night Mare myth was a dream horse that trampled people in their sleep, its great weight causing suffocation." This cat becomes this by being on the narrators chest, breathing in his face causing him to lose sleep and eventually stop sleeping. The narrator states of constantly nodding on and off where is sleep life and waking life combine to form a nightmare. The narrator blames his situation on the cat, maybe it could've been an act of affection to the narrator when he was good person but instead becomes an easy victim for his rage. He sees it as a sign of a menace, and of his guilt. Only once the wife and the cat are out of the way that the man can sleep peacefully.
The Pen-Knife, Eyes, and Vision
The first of violence in the house is with the use of a pen knife. A pen knife is used to sharpen the quill of the narrator. He uses the the pen knife to deliberately cut out one of Pluto's eyes. Symbolically, the man is sharpening the cat's eye with his knife. Pluto learns what his master is capable of and now can only see the world through one eye. This also sharpened the eyes of the narrator as well. Damage to a character's eye signals us to a changing vision in the story. Violence opens up the readers eyes to the issues of animal cruelty and spouse abuse. Since the narrator is penning his story in jail, Poe creates a twisted double of himself, the real writer of the story. The pen-knife becomes an allegory about writing.
The Rope, the Tree, and the Gallows
The image of the cat hanging in the tree all day and all night is a profound image in itself. The second cat has a white patch on his chest that looks like the gallows, a structure used to hang people. Its a symbol of Pluto's murder and becomes a symbol of the man's guilt, depravity, a visual reminder of his crime, and his changing personality. It also foreshadows the man's punishment for the murder of his wife.
The Axe and the Cellar
The imagery of the cellar is vivid, the reader can smell the muskiness, see the mold on the walls etc. Like the pen-knife, the ax has the potential to be used for violence. Axes can be used to chop wood and potentially save people like what firefighters do. However, axes are used to break things down. The ax here symbolizes the mans complete breakdown and the breakdown of his family. After the murder of his wife, the narrator keeps us in the cellar for the rest of the story which keeps us walled up and trapped in the story. The theme of Freedom and Confinement is seen here and also speaks for the trapped mind of the narrator. Although he is free to hurt others, he is increasingly becoming more confined and imprisoned.
The reader can sense the tone of urgency in the first paragraph because he was on the eve of his death and he has to tell his story.
The narrator feels ashamed for what he has to done and also a tone of anguish seems to go hand in hand when talks about the events that transpire.
He could also be a bit dramatic about the events.
The final tone could be a sense of mocking. If we think of the pen-knife and the sharpening of the reader's eyes, the reader is being mocked because the reader believes that the narrator actually is ashamed and feels sorry for what he did and he is mocking us with that fact.
Point of View
The point of view of the story is first person because the narrator is accounting for stuff that happened in his life and actions that he did. Like many of Poe's narrators, this one is unreliable especially after the first lines of the story where he says that he doesn't expect the reader to believe me so he doesn't ask him or her to. Its important to read the words carefully for he reveals alot in his words, if the reader reads fast, he or she becomes lost in a web of words. For example, the narrator admits unashamed that he beats his wife and describes her as being uncomplaining and "the must usual and most patient of sufferers." Usual has a double meaning. It means the she's the narrator's"usual", or most frequent, victim. It also means that she suffers in the "usual" way, as in crying, screaming, etc.
Psychology in Poe's Writings
Poe actually uses and reveals alot of psychological issues when comes to his characters. In the Black Cat, Poe's narrator suffers from alot of issues. Issues like irrationality, perverseness, and guilt. Irrationality in the lines of he denying that he's not superstitious but his cats name is Pluto, the god of the dead and ruler of the underworld in Greek and Roman mythology. This irrationality makes the narrator believe that Pluto was reincarnated in this cat and believes the cat is trying to kill him. Perverseness in Poe's words, is in impluse or idea that once it hits the mind, he or she cannot resist doing it. He or she becomes helpless and furious because of the unsatisfactory to fulfill these thoughts. This is clear with the second cat, he lifts his arm (cont)
Psychology in Poe's Writings
to kill the cat, when his wife stops him, the impulse is there and he just can't resist it and he just lays the ax into her head. In the "the Cask on Amontillado", Poe shows what reverse psychology can do to a person. Montresor tricks Fortunato into the catacombs knowing his weakness for wine to put his plan into action. Along the path though, Montresor tries to let Fortunato know that they can turn back for the sake of his health. Fortunato being so prideful, refuses, and it ultimately leads to his death.
1. What is the significance of the cats' name?
2. How does the narrator or Poe define "perverseness"? Do you agree with their definition? Do you agree that its human nature?
3. What is the significance of the fire and the new cat with the markings on his chest? What does the markings symbolize?
4. Why is it so important that the cat won't leave the narrator alone?
5. Why is the narrator able to sleep so well after the murder of his wife?
Work Cited and Credentials
Hamid, Shamza. "Join Academia.edu & Share Your Research
with the World."
Psychology in Edgar Allan Poe's The
Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado, and Bernice.
n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2014.
Shmoop Editorial Team. "The Black Cat."
Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 08 Mar. 2014.
Presented by Joshua Burchfield, Kanon Tougaw, Marisol Perez-Avila, Mckenna Gerster, and Whitney Krumwiede