In "The Black Cat," what does the cat do to haunt the narrator?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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While Poe preceded Sigmund Freud, he,too, understood the urges of the id, describing them as "the spirit of perverseness." The narrator exercises this "spirit" by cutting out an eye from Pluto, the cat, and later by hanging it. Concomitant with the narrator's abuse of Pluto is his maltreatment of his wife; certainly, the connection between felines and women is symbolically apparent.

Because he feels a sense of guilt over having killed Pluto, the narrator cannot rid himself "of the phantasm of the cat." And, so, in an effort to squelch his guilt, he allows another cat of similar appearance to follow him home. This cat soon becomes a favorite of his wife, while the narrator finds that he begins to dislike the creature:

...its evident fondness for myself rather disgusted and annoyed me. By slow degrees these feelings of disgust and annoyance rose into the bitterness of hatred.

The narrator senses an "odious presence" from the cat and is haunted by him because

  • Like Pluto, it is missing an eye
  • It follows the narrator, and when he sits, the cat covers him with its "loathsome caresses."
  • It haunts the narrator because of his memory for his previous killing of Pluto.
  • The white mark on the cat's chest resembles the image of the gallows.
  • The narrator awakens in the night and feels "the breath of the "thing" on his face.
  • One day as his wife accompanies him to the cellar, the cat follows and "nearly throwing me headlong, exasperated me to madness." When his wife stays his hand as he moves an axe to kill it, he turns the axe upon her, instead.
  • After he conceals the body of his murdered wife behind a wall, the cat screams out--"a howl, a wailing shriek half of horror and half of terror"--reveals to the investigating police the whereabouts of the wife's corpse.
  • On the half-decayed body of the wife that the police discover, "sat the hideous beast who craft had seduced [him] into murder,...who informing voice had consigned [him] to the hangman...."
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