Why does Poe capitalize certain nouns in "The Black Cat," and what does it reveal about the narrator's state of mind?

Quick answer:

In “The Black Cat,” Poe capitalizes certain nouns in order to personify them. This way, he conveys the impression that they are forces in their own right, completely out of control. This tells us that the narrator's state of mind is weak and subject to forces outside his control.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the most important capitalized nouns in Poe's “The Black Cat” is intemperance, an old-fashioned word for alcoholism and a condition of which Poe had considerable experience. In fact, Poe describes it as “Fiend Intemperance,” making it seem more like a person than a health condition or disease.

In capitalizing nouns such as this, Poe personifies them, making them all the more difficult to deal with. As these nouns are effectively people, they have lives of their own, their own desires and interests, which makes them virtually impossible to control.

As anyone who's suffered from alcohol abuse will tell you, alcohol exerts a powerful grip from which it is very hard to escape. And it's the same with the narrator in “The Black Cat.” The “Fiend Intemperance” has him in its vice-like grip and is not prepared to let go.

What this says about the narrator's mind is that it's incredibly disturbed. To be more precise, he's not in control of his own mind, which is under the baleful influence of a variety of personified, capitalized nouns, such as Gin, Rum, Alcohol, and Horror. The narrator's mind is so weak, so fragile, that he's unable to resist their dark and evil power.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial