Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Besides the narrator’s ironic self-contradiction or unwitting irony, Poe’s other most pervasive technique in the story is symbolism. Symbols of perception include the narrator’s particular mutilation of Pluto, for like his pet, the narrator is half-blind, not only in the past, in the story he relates, but also in the present, when he still cannot understand what it all means. In the past he was half-blinded by drink, and in both the past and present by guilt, rationalizing, or unwillingness to see unpleasant things. For example, though he claims to have been “half stupefied” when he first became aware of the second black cat, only a consuming if unacknowledged sense of guilt can explain his asserted failure to notice that it was one-eyed until after it was home, despite his prior continued petting of it in the tavern and detailed notice of its markings. He wanted an exact substitute, with the same injury, in order to punish himself. The words “half”’ “equivocal,” and “blindly,” which the narrator applies to himself at various times, reveal his defective vision.
Symbols of rationality and its defeat can be found in the narrator’s horrible act of burying the ax in his wife’s “brain”—a word that emphasizes thinking more than the word “skull” would. In this act, the narrator has in effect extinguished his own rationality, as well as its chief human representative in his sphere. Further, when the brick wall is broken down,...
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Use of Irony in "The Black Cat"
In Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Black Cat," the nameless narrator begins his horrifying tale by informing his readers that he is about to relate a "series of mere household events." [FN1] He then wonders if, in the future, when his morbid tale is discussed by others considering his case, they will find it to be "nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects." [FN2]
Considering the terrible conclusion of the story, this very opening establishes an ironic tone that continues until the end of the tale. The fact that the Narrator would even wonder if his horrible story would ever be considered a "series of mere household events," and the casual, almost off-handed way he contemplates his actions immediately informs the reader that the opinion of the Narrator and the facts of the story he is relating may turn out to be something completely different from what is first presented. He tells us in the beginning of the story that "tomorrow I die." Obviously something extraordinary has taken place or he would not be in that fateful position. The reader quickly comprehends that the Narrator's opinion of the story and what actually occurred may be two very different versions of some gruesome event. The fact that the Narrator is in jail and has been sentenced to death only adds to the irony of his musings. He looks back on the events with "awe," yet thinks that others, sometime in the future, will understand and sympathize with him, finding what he did not odd at all. In the end we know he will die because in the beginning he has still, only hours before his death, come to terms and accepted responsibility for the consequences of his actions. In the very first paragraph of the story he points the finger of blame at "these events" which he claims "have terrified— have tortured—have destroyed me." Refusing to recognize his own guilt, the Narrator condemns "these events" as the cause of all his woes. As a reading of the story quickly demonstrates, nothing could be farther from the truth.
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. He dismisses his awful cat mutilation as a "vile or silly action" committed, perhaps, like other foolish acts committed by "Man" "for no other reason than because he knows he should not." He goes on to wonder, "Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
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