In Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Black Cat," how does the setting of the tale reinforce some of the narrative's themes?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Although Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Black Cat” features a number of settings, its opening setting is a prison cell in which the narrator is incarcerated, awaiting execution (“tomorrow I die”). This setting contributes to the themes of the story in a number of ways, including the following:

  • Although the narrator claims in the first paragraph that he is not insane, his very need to make that claim plants the suspicion that he may in factbe imprisoned in the confines of his own deluded mind.
  • The narrator’s present physical imprisonment is as nothing compared to the psychological imprisonment he feels throughout the story as he is tormented by his assumptions about the black cat(s).
  • The narrator’s obsession with the story’s two black cats leads, eventually, to his literal imprisonment.
  • Increasingly, the narrator feels imprisoned by his bizarre relationship with the black cat(s) the story describes.
  • The narrator is imprisoned, awaiting execution (probably by hanging), yet it was the narrator himself who deprived his first cat of its freedom and executed the cat by hanging it.
  • The narrator, who metaphorically imprisoned the body of his dead wife behind a wall in his house, is now himself literally imprisoned.
  • Although the second black cat escaped metaphorical imprisonment behind the wall after the police discovered the murder committed by the narrator, the narrator himself will not escape from his own literal imprisonment. Staring at the rotting, newly discovered corpse of his wife at the very end of the story, the narrator comments,

Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb!

  • By the conclusion of the story, it is the cat, in a sense, that has imprisoned the narrator, rather than vice versa.




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