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The Black Cat

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Kelly Miller

on 20 November 2012

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Transcript of The Black Cat

The Black Cat By Taylor Madarash and Kelly Miller Point of View - The story is told in first person by a unreliable narrator who explains where he's headed and what events led him there - This is done on the eve of his execution in the form of a sequence of flashbacks. They are explained rather nonchalantly as if they mildly bother him but are not too serious. - These two traits (first person and flashbacks) are especially dominant in American Gothic Fiction - This sets up an atmosphere of of mystery; teasing the readers and daring them to read more. - This suspense is a typical element of Gothic Fiction, and Poe uses it to encourage people to piece together the chain of events. - It's this POV that leads into the character development, an aspect that is usually applied at this time directly in the in the exposition of most short stories The Narrator - The narrator is an unusual character for a piece of American Gothic literature; initially he defies the role of a stock 'outsider' in that he states he has a lot of friends, he's social and a joker, he's a tender person, and he likes animals - The changes he undergoes as he progresses into his alcoholism are what make him more of a fitting character in American Gothic Literature; he becomes more withdrawn from others but specifically from himself, he shows violence towards his wife and animals (including, eventually, Pluto), and he uses false justifications for his actions - The narrator is a Satanic Hero; his actions are immoral, but his justifications of them convince himself that he's not a bad person. - Even though he introduces his wife first, he explains his cat first and always connects his behavior to the cat as if his wife is just an after-thought. Pluto: The Cat - Pluto's personality is described second; this is a common way of introducing the antagonist - His name has significance; Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld/hell - The extent to which the narrator claims to love his animals suggests a degree of mental instability; he has 'too much of a good thing' The Wife - Because she shares the narrators love of animals she's likely thought of as 'just another pet' by him - The narrator's inability to understand or even recognize his excessive love for animals foreshadows his inability to explain his motives for later actions like killing his wife - The narrator cutting Pluto's eye from his socket can be seen as symbolic of self inflicted partial blindness to the narrator's own vision of moral goodness Transformation - Transformation is one of the biggest themes in the story - There's the superstitious idea of the black cat being a witch in disguise which is the transformation of one being into another physically - The black cat also has physical transformations on itself; such as its eye being removed, the implied reincarnation of Pluto into the second unnamed cat, and the transformation of the white spot on its fur into gallows - Another example, after the fire, is the plaster transforming to resemble a cat with a rope on its neck - even though the narrator has an explanation this is likely a supernatural occurrence and transformation - Most importantly is the transformation of the narrator and his personality throughout the story, especially as his alcoholism worsens. He goes from being a tender, social man to a violent, withdrawn man. - Interestingly, the only thing that doesn't seem to change is the wife. It's important to note that the thing which does not change, or transform, dies (permanently, without reincarnation). - The narrator puts himself on the same level as his cat; what the narrator feels for himself he also feels for the cat - Initially this feeling is love, adoration, and pride; basically, the narrator thinks very highly of himself and Pluto. - This is can be demonstrated by how the narrator praises himself (he loves animals so much, is tender-hearted, etc.) and praises his cat at the start of the story - Throughout the story these feelings become resentment, anger, and fear; this can be attributed to the decline of his personality once he becomes an alcoholic and how he feels about himself being an alcoholic - If the cat and narrator are on the same level; then the narrator mistreating the cat can also be symbolic for the narrator mistreating himself through his alcoholism - Pluto brings an element of superstition into the story through his physical appearance (black cats are unlucky/witches), his apparent reincarnation after his death (because cats are said to have nine lives), the white spot on the second cat's fur becoming shaped liked gallows (the method in which he died), and the mysterious events surrounding him (the house fire after his death, the image of the cat on his wall). - Some people believe your birthmarks represent the methods in which your past selves died or received serious injury (the second cat's white mark and injured eye) - Superstition is a very common element to American Gothic Literature - If the narrator and Pluto can be seen as on the same level, the wife can be seen as on a separate, lower level - Unlike the common 'damsel in distress' found within most Gothic Literature, the wife does not fit this role. She neither seems lost as a person, confused, nor is she dying a slow death (her death is rather sudden) - Similarly, the story does not focus on her relationship with her husband but instead on his relationship with his cat - At the same time, her death is not a complete surprise to the reader, as it is foreshadowed throughout the story (if the narrator is being executed the following morning he must have killed a person, for he would not be executed for the murder of a cat). The Narrator's Use of Excuses - The narrator uses many different excuses to shift the blame from himself to a darker intrinsic need that all humans posses. This idea of a darker intrinsic need within humanity is often present in Poe's writing but also in Gothic Literature in general - If the narrator's account of events is taken as unreliable, it can be conceived that his excuses for them are a result of his inability to understand the importance of the events. - It is also likely that the narrator is trying to make amends with what he has done before he is put to death for his crime; whether or not he believes his excuses will justify his actions and save himself from execution is unknown, but plausible. - His excuses begin with his indulgence in alcohol. He claims that it's the fury of a demon that possesses him, and he no longer knows himself. This is how he explains his reasoning for taking out his cat's eye and physically abusing, and later murdering, his wife. - He then justifies killing his cat by claiming that any man would. He states that it's human nature to act on something 'because' one knows that it is wrong. - His excuses always surround his cat even though he has been convicted for the murder of his wife. It is as if he lost sight of the wrong he really committed. - His major excuses consist of alcohol, 'because it's bad and I can', and 'someone must have thrown my dead cat'. Never does he take blame for any of his own actions as if he has no control over himself. - At one point he even states that he doesn't know who he is anymore. - This act of duality within himself is read commonly in Gothic literature, and Poe uses it to enforce ambiguity in the Narrator's thought processes. Revenge - Revenge is the clearest theme within this story. - Specifically the fact that revenge is greater than oneself. - The narrator feels overtaken by his alcoholism, so he harms his cat as a way of coping. - The cat comes back from the dead to obtain revenge for his own death. - The narrator began by acting out in vengeance against alcohol, but a greater revenge led to his death sentence because of his actions, regardless of how he attempts to excuse them. - It's this theme that is used often in Gothic short stories, but it's this short story specifically that ties it so completely with superstition. Conflict - The two major conflicts that exist within "The Black Cat" are the internal conflict of the narrator vs. his alcoholism and the external conflict of the narrator vs. his cat, Pluto - However, if Pluto is seen as a symbolic representation of both the narrator's and Poe's alcoholism it can be argued that these two internal and external conflicts are actually just the same conflict expressed in different ways. - A conflict should exist between the narrator and his sense of guilt and/or remorse, however it is unclear if it does; if the narrator's excuses are a way of covering up his feelings in regard to his actions then that conflict may exist, but if his excuses are meaningless then his apathy towards his actions may show that this conflict does not exist. - If the conflict does not exist, this is yet another way of pointing out the darker, intrinsic nature present within humanity "The Tell-tale Heart" - "The Tell-tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" share many similarities, but with most of these similarities also comes differences - Both stories feature the narrator murdering someone and then hiding the body in a similar fashion only to confess to the murder. - However, in "The Tell-tale Heart" the murder is planned out and involves someone to which the narrator has no connection; and the murder in "The Black Cat" is not planned out but involves someone to which the narrator should have a very deep connection; his wife. - Another difference brought on by a similarity is that in each story the narrator confesses because of sounds; however in "The Tell-tale Heart" the beating of the heart is psychological and not real, while in "The Black Cat" the cat meowing is a real sound that can be heard heard by everyone. - Both stories also feature the narrator feeling cocky enough to invite the police to the location at which the narrator has hidden the body - Each story also follows its narrator's decent into madness after initially proclaiming his sanity in the opening paragraph The Cat Came Back - "The Cat Came Back" was written in 1893 by Harry Miller and was originally published under the title "The Cat Came Back: A Nigger Absurdity" - In the original version the cat died when it met an organ grinder, but even then it came back as a ghost. - Even though there is no direct tie between the two songs it's still interesting to listen to the song while thinking of the short story (and also a fun way to end the presentation). - Interestingly, the original cover art for the song includes a picture of a cat missing it's eye - Pluto himself is a symbol for alcohol/alcoholism and the struggle between the narrator and his alcoholism as well as Poe and Poe's alcoholism. - Initially the narrator regards Pluto fondly and dearly; this can be seen as the idea of drinking being 'fun" and making a person initially feel good. As the narrator's feelings towards Pluto change this is seen as that change in mindset when alcohol no longer becomes fun but starts to consume you. - After the fire, the walls of the narrator's house all fall in except for the one depicting the image of the cat on the plaster; this can be seen as a way of symbolizing that alcohol is all that is left in the narrator's life. - A fear of being buried alive is present in most of Poe's stories, and these two are no exception; the old man is buried beneath the floorboards and the wife within the wall, and even though both are already dead, in the instance of the elderly man, the narrator believes the man to be alive (the beating heart), and in the instance of the the wife, the narrator also entombs the cat along with the wife.
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