Give a critical analysis for the short story "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe.

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Written by Edgar Allan Poe, "The Black Cat" is a story of horror, in the Poe tradition of other other horror stories like "The Tell-tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado." There are supernatural elements; ane these stories have a narrator who is suspect because of his fragile grasp of reality—the sanity of the narrator is in question. We can no longer be sure of the narrator's reliability.

In "The Black Cat," our main character is recounting a string of events that have led him to his fate. We find that what he considers a "series of mere household events" are anything but—eventually cementing the reader's sense of the narrator is mentally unstable. While he wants the reader to sympathize with him, it is impossible because his psyche is so fragmented. Like the narrator in "The Cask of Amontillado," this man wants the reader to understand his actions, which is an impossible task when dealing with madness: he does not deal with logic or reason.

Thinking himself "excitable," the narrator expects that perhaps someone else can shed some light on this story:

Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the common-place...which will perceive... nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.

The narrator begins to present his defense; he says that from the time he was a child, he was "docile" and "tender of heart." He describes his love of animals as a child, but his character suffers when he says that he never outgrew this youthful, child-like attachment to animals.

This peculiar of character grew with my growth, and in my manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure.

There is foreboding when he call a pet a "brute:" Companionship?—yes. Devotion?? The narrator marries and his wife loves animals, too, but she shares concern about Pluto's color and "witches," which he dismisses as a meaningless notion.

(Note, "Pluto," is the Greek god of the underworld, the Roman god of Hades; a place of the dead. The cat may symbolize death.)

Then, the speaker admits to a drastic change in his character. He drinks, becomes moody and abusive to his wife, and to his animals. Frightened one night by his owner, Pluto bites him, and the speaker snaps. He cuts out the cat's eye. The cat heals but now avoids him. The perverse anger he feels at the cat's fear is troubling. The image of the true man emerges as he chooses to kill the cat for no good reason. He hangs the cat from a tree—while believing he commits a great sin.

There seems a link between "disaster and atrocity:" his house burns down that night. He finds another cat very similar and brings it home, but soon comes to hate it, though it adores him. Its white chest looks like a gallows. The narrator' has nightmares of the cat on his face. His hatred grows, and so he tries to kill it, but kills his interfering wife instead.

Without remorse, the narrator hides the body in a basement wall. The cat disappears. Four days later the police call. The speaker is proud of his job in hiding the body, and following them, he draws attention to the new wall as they start to leave, hitting it with his cane. At once, a sound erupts from the hidden space: "a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph."

And so, his crime is exposed—he will die. This "tender hearted man" is a fiend, completely insane—exposed by his nemesis, the black cat—but which one...or the same one? Poe leaves us with delicious questions.