The Black Cat (Short Story): Exploring the Elements of an Obsession Theme

Category: Edgar Allan Poe
Last Updated: 30 Jun 2023
Pages: 4 Views: 71

"The Black Cat" is a story written by Edgar Allan Poe about a man's descent into madness. The question of whether this story is a revenge or obsession tale can be analyzed through the three characteristics of Poe's obsession tales: an unaware narrator, the death of a beautiful woman, and a contrast of powerful and powerless characters.

Poe's story, "The Black Cat" is an obsession tale because it deals primarily with the narrator's obsession over killing his cat, and includes the three primary aspects of Edgar Allan Poe's obsession tales. "The Black Cat" is about a man who falls victim to the mental consequences of alcohol. It states at the beginning of the story that the narrator and his wife love animals, and they own quite a few pets. His favorite pet of them all is an entirely black cat named Pluto.

The narrator loves this cat with all of his heart, however when he starts heavily drinking, the narrator becomes an entirely different man. His mind disintegrates into that of an angry, violent lunatic. One night, he came home drunk and believed Pluto has avoided him. In response, he lashes out on the animal. When he angrily grabs the cat, it bites him. In a drunken rage, he cuts out the eye of his beloved black cat and starts to develop an immense hatred towards the animal.

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Soon thereafter, he hangs the animal to kill it. The narrator then states that a new cat comes and looks exactly like his first one; it was all black and had an eye missing. He adopts this new cat, but like Pluto, he starts to despise it when drunk. The cat starts to develop a white mark in its all- black fur that resembles an image of the gallows. Eventually, the narrator hates this cat to the point of him deciding to kill this new cat with an axe.

However, when he attempts to kill the animal, he misses and hits his wife instead, killing her. Paranoid, he panics and hides his wife inside a basement wall, later to be discovered by police. While the police are inspecting the narrator's home for clues of his wife's murder, the narrator supposedly hears the cat's meow from behind the wall and, believing the police heard it too, confesses to killing his wife.

The narrator states that he sees this new cat on top of his dead wife's head after the police had torn down the basement wall. There is a question of whether or not the second cat was real or just a figment of the narrator's imagination as a manifestation of his guilt. Either way, this story is most definitely an obsession tale. This story contains a beautiful woman who ultimately gets killed by the narrator.

The beautiful woman in this story is the wife. While the wife does play a part in this story, the cat and the narrator are the primary focus. The narrator states, "But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul" (Poe). By stating this, the narrator is implying that he is in jail and on death row for the murder of his wife. If he had not killed his wife, it is unlikely that he would even be in jail at all, much less about to die.

The narrator is writing this to clean his slate before he is executed. Without his wife's death, there would be no confessional. Another aspect to one of Poe's obsession tales is the inclusion of an unaware narrator. In this case the narrator is unaware of his descent into madness. At the beginning of this story, the narrator states that he is sane, however as the story is being told, the reader can assume that this is false. The story also deals with a contrast of powerful and powerless characters.

At first glance, one may think that the cat was powerless because it was killed, and the narrator was the powerful being that ended its life. However, the truth of the matter is that the narrator is the powerless one. He is powerless to his guilt. He is powerless to his descent into madness. He is powerless to his demons. Either the cat or the figment of imagination that it represents caused the narrator to be caught by the police eventually be hanged for murder.

Therefore, whether the second cat was real or not, it is responsible for the narrator's death, and therefore holds the ultimate power over him. The overall layout of the story holds more to the layout of one of Poe's obsession tales than his revenge tales. One of the most important aspects of Edgar Allan Poe's revenge tales is that the murderer gets away without punishment. This was seen in Hop Frog where the protagonist, Hop Frog, and his friend escape the castle after killing the king. This was also seen in The Cask of Amontillado, when the narrator of the story confesses to a killing that he hasn't been caught for in 50 years.

This is most certainly not the case in "The Black Cat," because the narrator states he is in jail and about to be hanged for the murder of his wife. "The Black Cat" contains all three characteristics of an obsession tale - death of a beautiful woman, an unaware narrator, and a contrast of powerful and powerless characters. These characteristics are a clear part of "The Black Cat," and for that reason, this story fits best into the category of one of Poe's famous obsession stories.

Works Cited

  1. Poe, Edgar A. "The Black Cat." N.p.: n.p., 1839. Poestories.com. 2005 Web. 26 Jan.2015.

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The Black Cat (Short Story): Exploring the Elements of an Obsession Theme. (2023, Jun 27). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/the-black-cat-short-story-exploring-the-elements-of-an-obsession-theme/

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