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What are gothic elements in "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe? Cite them.

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kim812 | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 3, 2009 at 4:46 AM via web

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What are gothic elements in "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe? Cite them.

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mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 3, 2009 at 5:12 AM (Answer #1)

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Gothic literature has several distinguishing features.  It often focuses on the dark, evil side of human nature.  It asserts that everyone has a dark side, and in these stories, we find the characters giving in to that dark side, and doing awful things.  Also, gothic literature has elements of the supernatural or unexplainable to it; ghosts, paranormal activities, and malevolent hauntings.  Gothic literature also focuses on the confusing complexities of the human mind; characters often get lost in their thoughts, and suffer breakdowns from mental anguish and instability.

If we look at the story, the narrator grew up a kind, loving and amiable man.  He has a "docility and humanity" in his "disposition," and is kind to all people, and animals.  However, the story takes a gothic twist when, because of "intemperence," or alcholism, his personality suffers a "radical alteration for the worse."  He becomes violent, ill-tempered, and abuses both his wife and all of their pets.  The narrator has given into his darker side, and it leads to the death of his wife, and his trying to cover it up.  So, we see a narrator who embodies the gothic concept of "mankind's dark side."

Also in the story are elements of the supernatural.  The narrator has disturbing visions of hanged cats, and his own cat inspired "terror and horror" within him.  The black cat, supposedly disappeared, appears again, to torment the narrator and remind him of his evil deed, all while the cops are right there with him.  So, the supernatural spiritual manifestation of the cat was occuring throughout the end of the story; this focus on ghosts and supernatural events is another gothic trait.

We see the narrator becoming lost in the maze of his own mind as the story continues, which is another gothic trait.  He is tormented unusually and illogically by the black cat, and dwells on it so much that it drives him crazy.

Those are just a couple gothic elements to the story "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe.  I hope that they help; good luck!

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 3, 2009 at 1:17 PM (Answer #2)

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The enotes to Gothic literature make mention of the element of "privileged irrationality and passion over rationality and reason."  This chaos of irrationality seems to be what moves the plot of "The Black Cat" by Poe and is its most salient feature.  Even the narrator suggests his own abnormality:

Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the commonplace....Some calmer intellect, more logical, less excitable than mine will perceive...nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.

That the narrator is "friends" with the cat in the beginning, yet he "maltreats" it by "a fiendish malevolence" in his "frame" which induces him to cut one of the cats eyes out points to his "privileged irrationality."  In a chaos of confusion, the next day he feels some remorse for his act.  Nevertheless, he subsequently hangs the cat

because I knew that it had loved me and had given me no reason of offense--hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin, a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul....

After his house is ruined by fire, the disturbed narrator returns to the ruins to see the cat in relief: cast in what had been freshly spread plaster.  This "phantasm" of the cat remains with the narrator, who takes in another black cat.  One day, however, in the chaos of his mind, he becomes angered at the second cat who causes him to trip.  With an axe, he attempts to kill the cat; instead, his hand is stopped by his wife.

Goaded by this interference into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain.  She fell dead upon the spot without a groan.

This act is surely one of chaotic irrationality.  It is horrific, too.  When he cannot find the cat to rid himself of it, the narrator worries no more.  Nor is he worried by the several visits by the police. Irrationally, the narrator boasts of his sturdily constructed walls, and a shriek is heard.  Upon tearing down the wall on which the narrator has rapped, the police discover the decayed remains of the woman and the black cat whom the narrator describes,

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....

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polasabir | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 19, 2013 at 7:51 PM (Answer #3)

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"The Black Cat" as Gothic Literature
One of Edgar Allen Poe's most famously read and celebrated stories is "The Black Cat." Like most of his other stories, "The Black Cat" follows the Gothic convention of literature, a style that explores humanity's fear and fascination with the unknown. Although it originated in Germany, it was revived in the 1700's. Gothic literature investigates man's emotions, particularly fear, in the face of forces we cannot comprehend. Typical motifs of this type include darkness, horrid figures, grotesque imagery, illusion, and spaces. Stories of this sort strip us of our understanding, and sensationalize us, giving us a thrilling sense of terror that we enjoy.
Although Perverseness is the theme of Poe's story, he uses the feeling of guilt as a kind of fear. By detailing the decline in the main character's mental state throughout the story, Poe demonstrates the loss of control over one's own behavior and the horrifying effects, touching on the fear of one's own self as fear of the unknown. The narrator beings the tail claiming to be perfectly sane, but over time his account shows that he indeed has a spirit of perverseness that surprises even himself. Through a series of violent acts, he brings about his own destruction. The elements of horror in this tale are very apparent.
One primary element of gothic literature is the superstitious blurring of the line between the normal and the fantastic. Poe accomplishes this in a number of ways. The narrator, for example, is unreliable, being insane. In his account, he claims that the exact shape of a cat hanging on a noose was imprinted on a wall in the ruins of his old home. Although he tries to explain it naturally, it seems that there may be supernatural elements at work. The changing shape of the gallows on the new cat's white spot have similar effects. The narrator's wife even had a suspicion of black cats.
Revenants and haunts from the dead are often prevalent in Gothic literature. In the story, the second cat the narrator happens upon is a double of the first, and represents a revenant or ghost of the first-the one he killed. When the narrator kills his wife and walls her up, he attributes the scream from inside to the cat, although he describes it as sounding very human, as if his wife's ghost had screamed.
Gothic architecture plays with open spaces and depicts the decay and gnarling of human creations. Likewise, Poe explores a lot of psychological space in his story, and takes the reader on an emotional tour through the mind of a madman until reaching his final emotional breakdown and mental defeat. Poe's narrator is so perverse that his mind eventually becomes so twisted it is inhumane. The narrator could almost be described as a Byronic hero, being a flawed and tragic protagonist who is a danger to himself and others. Such a character is again typical of the old Gothic romances.
As Gothic movement was in part a rejection of neoclassical rationalism, so does Poe defy all logical explanation of the events in his story, his narrator being completely vexed by his own uncontrollable actions. The destruction of his house, and the eerie basement of his new one are representatives of usual structural motifs of Gothic variety. He explores perverseness as a thematic gateway to inner, inexplicable terror. "Terror is not of Germany," Poe once said, "but of the soul." Thus he revitalized in Victorian America a genre that had all but lost popularity until his time.

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