In "The Black Cat," in retrospect, why are the narrator's childhood experiences ironic?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator, by the end of the story, has revealed himself to be a vicious and violent abuser of animals and people alike.  He has confessed to being irritable, difficult, tempermental, and is probably even in jail for the brutal and horrific murder of his own wife, after brutally injuring and murdering numerous animals.

Given this picture of the narrator, it goes against our expectations to know that as a child, the narrator was a sweet, kind, shy, loving person, who was a friend to all animals and pets.  He writes of himself as a child,

"From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing them."

We learn that he was docile, humane, and happiest when giving kindess to his animals.  The irony in this description is that we know the narrator as a man to be totally the opposite:  he is not docile, but mean-tempered and irritable, lashing out at anyone and everything; he is not kind to animals, but in fact a tormentor, torturer and murderer of them.  Irony usually refers to how something is the opposite of what we expected, and to contrast the narrator as a child and as an adult provides a very stark and unexpected difference indeed.  I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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The Black Cat

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