What are the differences and similarities between "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe?  

"The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" both feature an unreliable first-person narrator confessing to a murder, which is discovered when a sound is heard coming from the tomb. "The Black Cat" is the more complex story of the two. The murder is unpremeditated, whereas in "The Tell-Tale Heart," it is carefully planned. Additionally, the narrator in "The Black Cat" is an alcoholic, committing his acts of violence against both the cat and his wife under the influence of alcohol.

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As one would expect from Edgar Allan Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” both deal with grotesque, horrific events carried out by men with serious mental health problems. In the latter, we see an alcoholic who kills his pets before murdering his wife; and in the former, we have the story of a crazed killer who murdered an old man only to find himself confronted by the sound of his heart beating beneath the floorboards.

A further similarity between the stories is that they're told by an unreliable narrator, a standard trope in Poe. As well as being mentally unbalanced, the narrator of “The Black Cat” is also, as we have seen, an alcoholic. This inevitably makes us wonder whether he isn't imagining some of the things he tells us.

The narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” is also unreliable, but with the difference being that his unreliability cannot be attributed to the effects of alcohol. It appears, for whatever reason, that he's mad. Our initial impressions are confirmed by his insistence that he was driven to murder the old man by his victim's supposedly “evil eye.”

In any case, both men confess. Whether what they confess is an entirely accurate account of events is a different matter entirely.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on November 12, 2020
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"The Tell-Tale Heart" is a first-person narrative by an unreliable narrator of questionable sanity. He is constantly attempting to reassure his audience that he is not mad, yet he describes his behavior in a way that seems to suggest that he is. He has murdered the old man with whom he lived and can give no explanation except his dislike of the old man's pale blue eye, which looks like that of a vulture. The murder is carefully planned and executed, and the narrator hides the corpse beneath the floorboards. He is confident of having escaped detection, but as soon as the police arrives, he believes that he hears the old man's heartbeat and gives himself away immediately.

"The Black Cat" also has a first-person unreliable narrator, who may be insane, though he is less nervous and erratic than the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart." He also commits murder and bricks up the victim, his wife, in the wall of his house. Although this was an unpremeditated, almost accidental crime, the narrator is able to hide it successfully at first. He is then betrayed, as in "The Tell-Tale Heart," by a sound from within the tomb.

Structurally, the stories are very similar: a first-person narrator, who may be mad, commits murder and hides the corpse. He then hears a sound from the hiding place, which gives away his crime. The principal differences are the lack of intention to commit murder in "The Black Cat" and the role of alcoholism in that story. "The Black Cat" is also a more complex story, and it is related in a less agitated manner.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on October 28, 2020
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Both of these stories have narrators that murder someone and bury them in a part of their house.  Both of the narrators are caught by the police.  Both have supernatural events occur to them (or, at least, a hallucination of their senses)--in "The Black Cat" the man thinks he sees the cat everywhere, and in "The Tell-Tale Heart" he thinks he hears the dead man's heartbeat.  Both narrators have been put into confinement--one in jail, about to be executed ("The Black Cat"), and the other one is some other indeterminate form of confinement, from which he is eager to prove he is not insane.  Both are written in the first-person point of view.

Differences between the two are in the narrator's intent in the murders--in "The Tell-Tale Heart" he planned his murder for a long time, stealthily waiting for the right moment, whereas the narrator in "The Black Cat" killed his moment with no forethought, but in a moment of blind rage.  The narrators were found out in different ways too; in "The Tell-Tale Heart" the narrator confessed openly, when he was afraid of being found out, but in "The Black Cat," the police found out not through a confession, but through discovering the body themselves.  The narrator in "The Black Cat" was an alcoholic, which led to his temper and problems, but the narrator in the other was not--he just claimed to have a "heightened sense of hearing" from a "disease."  Granted, that disease could have been alcoholism, but it isn't specified.  The supernatural thing that drives these men crazy in the stories is different--in one it's a cat, in the other it's a heartbeat.  And, the purpose in telling their tales also differs.  In "The Black Cat" the narrator says it is just his way of unburdening his soul before he dies; for "The Tell-Tale Heart" the narrator tells his story in a desperate attempt to prove that he isn't insane.

I hope that those thoughts helped a bit; good luck!

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