Provide a counterclaim to the narrator in "The Black Cat" that explains why he is guilty of the murder.

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Poe's short story "The Black Cat," the first person narrator, while admitting he killed his wife by taking an axe to her head, nevertheless seems to deny that he is actually guilty of murder. As he weaves his tale from his jail cell the night before the hanging, he attempts to justify his actions three ways. First, he implies that some supernatural force that he was powerless against drove him to commit the deed. In his introductory remarks, he anticipates that by sharing his story, someone will be able to ascertain that the whole affair was "nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects." In saying this, he shows that he himself believes the events had a supernatural cause. He describes his state when he killed his wife as "a rage more than demoniacal," and he equates the cat's screams with the screams of demons from hell. The implication is that he was unable to not kill his wife because supernatural forces were at work. To provide himself with other excuses, the narrator also at various times blames his action on alcoholism and on the cat. He uses these three excuses to try to avoid guilt for the crime he admits he committed.


A counterclaim against the narrator's arguments could center around deconstructing any legal defenses that could be used to acquit him of the murder. First, people can be acquitted of a murder charge if they acted in self-defense. By the narrator's admission, this cannot be used as a defense in his case. His wife was only trying to keep him from killing the cat; she did not threaten the narrator's life in any way. Second, another defense that can result in a "not guilty" verdict is the insanity defense. Interestingly, the narrator chooses not to pursue a defense that may, in fact, apply to him. He begins the story by proclaiming, "Mad am I not." Even if he had tried to use an insanity defense, one could point out that his actions after the murder show that he was in possession of his mental faculties. An insanity defense often relies on showing that the person did not know that what he or she was doing was wrong. By walling up the body to dispose of the evidence, the narrator shows he knew he had committed a crime. Since the man admitted to killing his wife, and since it was not in self-defense and the man cannot claim the insanity defense, he is guilty of murder. He cannot be exonerated by blaming a supernatural force, alcoholism, or a black cat.