Was the narrator of Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Black Cat" more concerned about the murder of his wife or the cat? What does this say about his sanity?

Expert Answers
kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The murderer and narrator of Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Black Cat is considerably more concerned about his murder of his once-beloved cat Pluto than he is about the death of his wife. The narrator's wife is almost an afterthought, a congenial partner who shares her husband's affinity for animals -- an affinity that succumbs to his alcoholism. While the narrator mentions his wife in positive tones, it is Pluto to whom he reserves his fondest memories. Early in this macabre tale of madness, the narrator draws a crucial distinction between his relationships to animals and to humans:

"There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man."

This comment provides fairly solid evidence of the narrator's concern for the cat he will first maim and then murder. He is more than a little smitten with Pluto, whom he describes as "a remarkably large and beautiful animal . . . and sagacious to an astonishing degree," and whom he categorizes as his "favorite pet and playmate." No such fawning verbiage is applied to his wife. Indeed, the narrator even notes that the transformation in his demeanor caused by his alcoholism that manifests itself in violent outbursts directed against his wife and his other pets does not extend to Pluto:

"My pets, of course, were made to feel the change in my disposition. I not only neglected, but illused them. For Pluto, however, I still retained sufficient regard to restrain me from maltreating him, as I made no scruple of maltreating the rabbits, the monkey, or even the dog . . ."

Additional evidence of the narrator's preference for the cat over his wife is provided in his descriptions of his reactions to their respective deaths. After initially maiming the cat by cutting out one of his eyes, he writes that "I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity." He laments his evil deed, suggesting that his punishment will include eternal damnation. How does he react to his murder of his wife? Read the following passage:

"Goaded by the interference into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain. She fell dead upon the spot without a groan. This hideous murder accomplished, I set myself forthwith, and with entire deliberation, to the task of concealing the body."

While much of The Black Cat involves the narrator's sense of self-loathing and remorse over his treatment of Pluto, his murder of his wife warrants little more than a hasty burial behind a wall. There is no sense of remorse, no expressions of regret for his actions in contrast to the many such expressions of remorse regarding the cat. For these reasons, it is safe to conclude that the narrator is more concerned about the cat than about his wife. 

Read the study guide:
The Black Cat

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question