Discuss the supernatural element as portrayed by Edgar Allan Poe in "The Black Cat."

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe has elements of the supernatural common in many of Poe's short stories and poetry.

The black cat that lives with the main character appears supernatural. The idea is introduced with his wife's concern about the cat's color and witchcraft.

...my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise.

The cat's name is "Pluto," which could refer to the Greek's mythology and religion as the god of the underworld...

the god was also known as Hades, a name for the underworld itself

"Plutos" is at times used in Latin literature as the ruler of the dead. We can surmise that Poe intentionally used this name to symbolize death and promote the motif of death in the story. The reader sees the growing intensity of the speaker's madness and drunkenness with his violent attack of Pluto, cutting out his eye. Time passes and the speaker's madness intensifies until he takes the cat out and hangs it from a tree next to his house. That same night, the house catches fire. The link here between "disaster and atrocity" seems supernatural as well.

The "other-wordly" does not stop. The next day there is a "three-dimensional image" on one of the house's walls. It is the figure of a giant cat with a rope around its neck. The speaker is at first petrified by what he sees, but soon rationalizes the image and forgets about it. The narrator calls himself "perverse," and he shows this trait when he decides to get another black cat. There are two strange things about this cat: it has sight out of only one eye (like Pluto), and a white patch on its chest that grows in size after the speaker takes it home—into the shape of a gallows.

The narrator's insanity intensifies and he begins to hate the cat. The more he avoids it, the more attached the cat becomes. This could be an eerie sort of supernatural punishment for killing Pluto. One day while walking into the cellar with his wife (with an axe in his hand), the speaker takes a swing, trying to kill the cat. His wife stops him; he pulls the axe back again and instead, kills his wife, but the cat disappears.

It is imperative for the speaker to hide his wife's body and he wants to avoid taking it outside, so he puts the corpse in an enclosure behind a reconstructed wall.

I determined to wall it up in the cellar—as the monks of the middle ages are recorded to have walled up their victims.

Four days later, the police arrive and want to search the house. The speaker must accompany them. He is calm and unworried, but then as the police prepare to leave, he tells them to look at the wall.

"...these walls are solidly put together”; and here, through the mere phrenzy of bravado, I rapped heavily, with [my] cane...upon that very portion of the brick-work behind which stood the corpse of [my] wife.

As he taps on it, a "hair-raising" sound is heard:

I was answered by a voice from within the tomb!—by a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman—a howl—a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell...

He had walled the cat up with the body. A superstitious perception might be that Pluto has returned in the form of the second cat, and—in triumph—has his revenge on the man who killed him.