The Black Cat Short Summary

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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"The Black Cat" is yet another classic murder tale from Poe. The unreliable first person narrator is writing his account on the eve of his execution for murdering his wife. The story that unfolds is a classic Poe narrative, combining the account of an unreliable narrator with madness and supernatural events that are essential ingredients of his fiction.

The narrator starts by telling us about his childhood and how humane he was. He was particularly fond of animals and had many. He married someone with a similar interest, and they had many pets together. However, particular mention is given to the cat they have together, who was the favourite pet of the narrator. However, because of alcohol, the narrator changes his sunny disposition and becomes angrier and more irritable. He ill-uses both his wife and his pets. One night, returning drunk, he seizes his cat and the cat bites his hand. In a fury, the narrator cuts one eye from the cat's face. The narrator later goes on to hang the cat from a tree and kill it, "because" he knows he is committing a terrible sin. On that same night, the narrator's house burns to the ground, reducing his circumstances greatly.

However, in the ruined house the narrator finds a picture of a gigantic cat on one of the walls with a rope around its neck. Although he tries to explain this picture away, he is unsettled. One night, again drunk, he sees another cat almost identical to his former cat, but with a white patch on his breast. This cat stays with the narrator and his wife, but the narrator comes to regard this cat with fear and dread, associating it with agony and death. One day, the narrator and his wife go down to the cellar, the cat following. The narrator becomes enraged and tries to kill the cat with an axe, but his wife stops him. Overwhelmed by anger, he turns and kills her. He buries the wife in the cellar, bricking in her corpse. Finally, the police arrive and, filled with bravado, the narrator shows them the cellar and raps on the exact place where his wife's corpse is buried saying how well the house is built. He is shocked to hear a voice from the tomb. It is after the police knock the bricks away that we realise the narrator walled up the cat along with his wife's body.