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What is the main tone of Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Black Cat?"This is for a literary...

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captivagirl73 | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:28 AM via web

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What is the main tone of Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Black Cat?"

This is for a literary analysis of "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allen Poe; my theme is poetic justice. We are supposed to use one author's tone but it seems to me the tone changes throughout the story. Can someone please explain the tone of this story to me?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:56 AM (Answer #1)

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Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat" seeminly begins as a confessional on the part of Poe's signature unreliable narrator.  However, it is not long before the reader discerns the ironic overtones of this confessional.  In the first paragraph Poe's narrator declares "I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity."  While the words blush, burn, and shudder suggest a feeling of shame, the use of "I pen" changes the emotions to ones directed to his act of writing about the incident, rather than the incident itself.  And, it is here that the irony enters.  For, the narrator questions not the act, but the story about the act as an atrocity.  As the reader considers, too, that the narrator has used a pen-knife to cut out the cat's eye, there is some mockery. By linking these two ideas together, the narrator, as author of the crime, seems to be mocking his reader as he pretends to be ashamed by his crime.  Indeed, he confesses to this mockery as he describes his "spirit of PERVERSENESS."  For, it is perverse for him to consider his narrative to be merely "a series of household events."  At any rate, this ironic tone continues to the end as the narrator condemns "these events" as the cause of his fate.

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 4, 2011 at 9:57 AM (Answer #2)

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You are correct in that the tone is how the author would like to hear you read the story to see if you "get" the gist of what the narrator is actually trying to convey onto the reader.

In the story The Black Cat irony consistently colors the story by setting the overall tone. First, the author has an icy-cold and near careless treatment of the topic of his once-beloved cat, Pluto and how he abused it.  At first, he starts telling the tale as if he were to amuse us with something that "just happened". Slowly, the mood changes, setting a tone which brings the chills to the reader when one realizes that he explaining to us with as much neutrality as possible that he poked out the eye of the cat in the middle of a drunken stupor.

Irony is also rampant because the narrator insists in his innocent and continues to blame other elements as the causative factors of those fits of hatred that take over him. He comes in and out of these events in an attitude so casual that one would think him a sadistic sociopath. Which, in fact, he was.

However, the fact that irony permeates the story's narrative helps prepare the reader to the end of the story, where divine justice is served and the main character perishes as a result of his actions. Therefore, the mood and tone of the story are interchangeable enough to create a strong atmosphere of confusion and horror.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:57 AM (Answer #3)

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Your definition of tone is accurate. I think that the difficulty with Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat" is that his tone is ironic.

The definition of irony is the difference between what we expect to happen and what really happens. The narrator starts by eliciting our sympathy, along with establishing himself as a reliable narrator.

The narrator tries to convince the reader that the occurrence of every day incidents lead to his fate, even when he stabs the cat (Pluto) in the eye. By the time he kills the cat, the reader is beginning to seriously suspect that what the narrator is saying is not entirely accurate.

The narrator soon becomes an unreliable voice; we discover he is in jail waiting to be executed, but it is not until later that we realize he has committed murder—something we may not be totally prepared for. This is another "swoop" the plot takes as the narrator weaves his tale, even as he reports the image of the cat hanging from a noose burned onto his house's wall (which the author explains away) when he burns his own house.

The narrator brings a new black cat into his home. This cat, he later finds, is also blind; the white patch on its chest begins to resemble a gallows (in the narrator's mind), and the narrator is fearful of hurting the cat. However, one night when he swings an ax at the feline, his wife stops him, and he goes on to strike her head with the ax. This sudden action will probably at last convince most readers that the narrator is deranged.

In finding a place to hide the body, the narrator seals his wife's corpse into the wall of the basement. When the police finally arrive, the narrator (sure he won't be caught) begins to brag about the sturdiness of the foundation, but when he strikes the spot where the body is hidden, a sudden howl reverberates through the cellar. Opening it, they find the body and the cat who the narrator had mistakenly sealed into the cavity.

Here is the final irony: the cat that is so much like the murdered Pluto is the one who exposes the narrator as a murderer.

Perhaps we should be suspicious before we are. The narrator does all he can to remove himself from any blame. He tries to blame "a series of unfortunate events," and later intoxication, for the actions that have led him to this juncture. His seeming insanity is confusing as we try to follow his story as if he were not at all demented. What we think we learn at the story's beginning is very different that what we expect and discover at the end. The narrator's disturbed mind makes it difficult to follow the tale. Our confusion is not an accident: Poe has led us here.

Clearly the most ironic element in "The Black Cat" is the Narrator's own perversely unrealistic and distorted view of the horrible scenario that unfolds.

The poetic justice I see is that poorly abused Pluto's "replacement" is the means by which the narrator is exposed to the police.

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