Black Cat Essay Topics

This terrifying tale embodies Poe's ideas about the pathological workings of the criminal mind. Poe believed that criminals are disposed to give themselves away not because of guilt but from the anticipated pleasure of defying moral authority. The narrator seems to relish the notion that his crime of hanging Pluto is a sin "beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God." His otherwise inexplicable act of preventing the police from departing and rapping on the bricks that conceal his wife's body is driven by the narrator's desire to "cap" his "triumph."

At the very start of this account, the narrator says, "for the most wild yet homely narrative I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief." Yet he couches his tale as a confession, and this clearly requires that we give his tale credibility. Throughout his account, the narrator undercuts his own credibility. He says, for example, that his purpose is to relate the events of his crime, which he characterizes as "a series of mere household events," "plainly, succinctly, and without comment." But he nonetheless immediately digresses by talking about the superstitious association between black cats and witches, which he mentions "for no better reason than that it happens, just now, to be remembered." Later on, he claims that he is "above" attempting to discern a sequence of cause and effect behind the appearance of the dead Pluto's image on the charred wall, but in the very next paragraph, he advances a speculative theory of how this occurred.

The narrator never take responsibilities for his deeds. He blames the Fiend Intemperance, he then points to the spirit of PERVERSENESS, but ultimately, it is Pluto and his replacement that the narrator identifies as the real culprit(s). Fusing Pluto and the second cat together, he claims that it is the "Arch-Fiend" cat "whose craft has seduced me into murder." At the same time, the narrator symbolically shares the most outstanding feature of the two cats that he comes to despise. Like both of these felines, the narrator is half-blind, committing horrid acts but being unable to clearly see what has happened. As the tale unfolds, the language he uses connotes feral characteristics, as when he tells us of his "rabid" desire to make conversation with the police, or says that he frequented "vile haunts." By the tale's conclusion, we know that rather than being a victim of a hellish beast, the narrator is himself the real beast.

  • 1

    How does the climax of the story reflect the narrator’s psyche?

    The revelation of the secrets he has imprisoned behind the wall that divulge the true depths of his menacing and reprehensible nature becomes a symbol of the darker desire and intentions that have lain in wait inside him. When the dead bodies are exposed for all the world to see it is high suggestive of how all the world is about to see the heinous potential that lay beneath his mask of serene normalcy.

  • 2

    What is ultimately exposed as the real “spirit of PERVERSENESS" that the narrator tries to explain away as a “primitive impulse of the human heart” and how does it contrast with the narrators lackluster explanation?

    The narrator tries to explain his horrific cruelty to the cat or cats as a primitive impulse to do something vile simply as a reaction to knowing that they should not. This is facile explanation for the real show of perversity that is to come. By the end of the story, it has become irrefutably clear that the real spirit of perverseness that grips the narrator (and by extension that part of the human race given to such demonstrations of primitive behavior) is the base unwillingness to show remorse or take responsibility for one’s actions that can be explained away by those who desire so to shift responsibility away from themselves and place it onto a universal drive. The only perversity manifested in the story is located within the individual: that unnamed narrator who cannot accept that he is beyond primitive and living closer to the border of the inhumane.

  • 3

    Modern readers may not be familiar with the narrator’s contention that black cats have been historically viewed as witches in disguise as readers at the time of publication. Why might Poe have inserted this bit of folklore?

    To contemporary readers, this insertion of a well-known superstitious belief would carry enough baggage of realism to ground the strange and bizarre occurrences to come within at least a certain limited amount of potential possibility. In other words, enough people quite possibly gave at least enough value to the firmament of this mythic belief to give the suggestion that it could have a kernel of truth. It would be like basing a story around the superstition of a mirror causing seven years’ bad luck; even though most people don’t really believe in any way that such an accident would result in causation, the widespread knowledge of this superstition somehow would make a story about a broken mirror stimulating a run of bad luck more realistic than if the bad luck were caused by, say, breaking a light bulb. There is no mythic history connecting breaking light bulbs with bad luck so therefore the story would seem to make less sense even though in reality neither story would make any sense. The fact that people were familiar with the” black cats as witches in disguise” trope thus foregrounds a certain acceptance of the more outlandish events of the tale as being related.

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