What might the narrator's "perverseness" be in Poe's short story "The Black Cat"?

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vanertc | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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As a master writer of poetry, short stories, detective mysteries, and psychological horror, Edgar Allan Poe was a bit obsessed with perverseness. Truly, as an alcoholic and opium addict who married his 13-year-old cousin and died penniless at age 40, it can be inferred that he was a bit perverse himself. Perhaps this is why he was able to create a main character/narrator in “The Black Cat” who is so thoroughly wicked, deviating from all that is considered righteous and proper.

The narrator tells us upfront that the reason his perverseness developed was due to the use of “strong drink.” He says that he blushes to admit this, but as he freely and with no remorse tells the story of his evil behavior, readers doubt that this man has any sense of morality at all. When his cat, Pluto, avoids his drunkenness one night, the narrator feels insulted, so he cuts his pet’s eye out with a knife. Subsequent events seem to stem from the man’s conscience, as he hangs Pluto rather than endure his own “feeble regret” at what he has done to the poor animal. After this, he seems to feel no regret on the surface, but his conscience haunts him through a second cat that grows to look just like Pluto, following him around with a spot on its chest which seems to morph into the shape of the gallows.

Eventually the man tries to kill this cat too, but when his wife grabs his arm to stop him, he goes “into the rage of a demon.” With no emotion at all, the man narrates, “I tore my arm from her grasp and buried the ax in her brain.” A person with any sense of right and wrong would feel some horror at his own actions. Instead, he calmly considers how to cover the evidence, such as “cutting the corpse into small bits and burning them.” He doesn’t even consider that the victim was his wife. He simply stuffs her body in a wall and mortars it up.

In the end, when the second cat alerts the police to the body’s location, the man calls it an “Arch-Fiend,” “the hideous beast, ” and “the monster.” Ironically, these are terms describing the man himself, but true to his perverse nature, he is so morally deviant that he doesn’t even consider that he is the evil one.


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epollock's profile pic

epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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In addition to the narrator's use of alcohol and his fight with alcoholism, Poe has his narrator describe “perverseness” in some detail. This is an added dimension to the narrator’s motivation. A reader might point out that the word means “to make a complete about face,” “to turn the wrong way” (per = complete, and vertere = to turn). Readers will enjoy deciphering  the meaning of this characteristic as applied to the narrator’s actions, because Poe does not specifically state what those actions entail and he does not explicitly state what that perverseness is, though a reader may conjecture that it is definitely evil or dark and terrible in consequence.

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