How does "The Black Cat" relate to Edgar Allan Poe's life?
"The Black Cat" like many of Poe's stories has a couple of autobiographical elements.
1. First, the death of a cherished woman occurs. Poe often includes this type of event in his writing because his mother--a beautiful actress--died when he was young. Later Poe loses his young wife to consumption and writes more works that include a woman's death. In "Cat," the narrator seems to love his young wife, but ultimately turns against her when she tries to stop him from killing the offending cat.
2. Secondly, the narrator is an alcoholic. Poe established a reputation as an alcoholic and was even last seen alive at a tavern. In the story, the narrator mentions that there is no disease worse than alcohol, and readers can infer that perhaps Poe was commenting on his own addition and how it changed him from who he had always wanted to be into someone who could not control his actions or future.
3. Thirdly, the narrator is unreliable and illogical. While Poe did not see himself as maniacal (as many of his characters are), he did recognize in himself and in others the potential to dwell on the dark themes of life and that that type of thinking can skew one's view of events and people.
Early in "The Black Cat," the narrator says, "I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my own." Edgar Allan Poe married Virginia Clemm when he was 26, and by all accounts, they were very compatible and quite happy together despite their age gap (she was 13 when they married). Like the story's narrator, Poe was known to be an animal lover, particularly of cats. He and Virginia had a pet cat when they lived in their cottage in what is now The Bronx.
The narrator, like Poe, had trouble with alcohol. Poe was known to be a binge drinker, and the narrator confesses that he is troubled by "the Fiend Intemperance."
The narrator also asks "who has not . . . found himself committing a vile or a stupid action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not?" Poe was certainly no stranger to self-destructive behaviors, such as the gambling that plunged him into debt in college or the feuds he engaged in as an editor and literary critic.
Like the narrator of "The Black Cat," Poe was a victim of alcoholism. He also used opium and might have suffered delusions as a result. The narrator of the story falls prey to alcoholism and begins to abuse his cat and his wife as a result. The narrator is delusional, much as Poe became over the course of his life, particularly as he began to suffer from the ravages of drug and alcohol abuse.
In addition, as other educators have noted, Poe suffered the loss of many women in his life. His mother died when he was very young, and his beloved wife, born as Virginia Clemm, also died when she was very young. They had been married for 11 years, but she was only 13 when they wed.
Like Poe's narrator, he suffered from irrational fears, including the fear of the dark and the unknown. His fears were likely worsened by the delusions he suffered as an alcoholic, though they made for wonderfully scary stories.