“The Black Cat”
Cummings, Michael J. "The Black
Cat." The Black Cat. N.p., 2005.
Web. 09 Jan. 2013.
• The story opens in the cell of a prisoner the day
before he is to be executed by hanging. After
introducing himself to readers as a man who
underwent a horrifying experience, the prisoner
writes down the details of this experience, which
led to his imprisonment and scheduled
– The events in his tale are set at his home and in a
– Although these events take place over several years,
the recounting of these events in writing takes place
on a single day in the narrator's prison cell.
• The Narrator, a prisoner scheduled for execution. His
loathing of a cat he once loved leads to his commission
of a capital crime.
• The Narrator's Wife, a woman of agreeable disposition
who likes animals and obtains many pets for her
• First Black Cat, a cat named Pluto that loves the narrator
but irritates him when it follows him everywhere.
• Second Black Cat, a cat that resembles the first black
cat and may be a reincarnation of the latter–or so the
narrator may think.
• Policemen, officers who investigate the happenings at
the home of the narrator.
• Servant, Person working in the narrator's household.
Type of Work: Short Story
• Short story in the horror genre that focuses on
the psyche of the narrator.
– Poe was one of the developers of the short story as a
– He defined a short story as a narrative prose work
• (1) is short enough to be read in one sitting,
• (2) takes place in one locale on a single day, (or even in a
• (3) centers on a single line of action, and
• (4) maintains a single mood. Every word or phrase should
contribute to the theme and the mood.
Time of Publication and Writing
• "The Black Cat" was first published on
August 19, 1843, in The Saturday Evening
Post, then known as The United States
• It was written in 1842.
• (1) A human being has a perverse, wicked
side–another self–that can goad him into
doing evil things that have no apparent
– The narrator himself admits that a perverse,
primitive impulse–a desire to do evil even
though he had no explanation for doing it
other than overindulging in wine–triggered his
• (2) Heavy drinking can bring out the worst
in a human being.
– Alcohol abuse alone did not cause the
narrator to strike out.
– But, as he readily acknowledges, it certainly
put him in a foul mood.
• (3) A weak, unbalanced human psyche
may be highly vulnerable to the power of
– The narrator's wife had suggested, apparently
in jest, that Pluto was a witch in disguise.
• (4) Evil deeds invite vengeance.
– Pluto gets even, the narrator indicates, by
causing the fire that burns down the narrator's
– And, if the second cat is indeed Pluto
reincarnated, Pluto sweetens his revenge by
alerting police with his crying behind the wall
hiding the corpse of the narrator's wife.
• (5) Fear of discovery can bring about
– At the end of the story, the narrator's strange
behavior makes the police suspicious of him.
Narration (Point of View) Firstperson unreliable.
• The narrator is obviously deranged, readers learn during
his telling of his tale, even though he declares at the
outset "mad am I not."
• He tells readers that excessive drinking helped to bring
on his erratic, violent behavior. (It may be that the
drinking worsened an existing mental condition.)
• The narrator tells his story as he sees it from his
demented point of view.
– As in many of his other short stories, Poe does not name the
– A possible explanation for this is that the unnamed narrator
becomes every human being, thereby enhancing the universality
of the short story. In other words, the narrator represents anyone
who has ever acted perversely or impulsively–and then had to
pay for his deed.
Allusion and Symbolism
• The narrator names the first black cat Pluto.
– In ancient Roman mythology, Pluto was the King of
the Underworld, ruling over the abode of the dead.
– In Greek mythology, on which the Romans based
their mythology, Pluto was called Hades.
– Pluto the cat, thus, seems to symbolize death to the
– That he gave the cat this name suggests that he
thought it a sinister creature from the moment he first
• The narrator's scheduled execution on the
gallows is foreshadowed:
– first by the narrator's hanging of Pluto,
– next by the outline of the dead cat on the wall
(after the fire),
– and finally by the outline of the gallows on the
white hair of the second black cat.
• After the narrator cuts out Pluto's eye, the
cat sees better–figuratively.
– Previously, the cat loved and trusted the
narrator, following him around, climbing into
his lap, and licking his hands.
– But after the cat loses an eye, it sees the
narrator for what he is–an unpredictable,
– It gains insight that it lacked before.
Poe's Frequent Use of Anaphora
• Anaphora is a figure of speech in which a word
or phrase is repeated at the beginning of a
clause or another group of words.
– Anaphora imparts emphasis and balance.
– Here are boldfaced examples from "The Black Cat":
• I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity
I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse. . . .
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
Reflection of Poe's Life?
• Poe himself owned a cat at the time that
he wrote this short story.
• He was also a heavy drinker during this