What does the second cat symbolize?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think it is possible to read the second cat as symbolic of the narrator's guilt. After he maims and murders Pluto, the first black cat, he says that "there came back into my spirit a half-sentiment that seemed, but was not, remorse." He says that it is not quite remorse, but he does begin to "look about [himself]" to find another cat, the same in appearance, to replace the first. The narrator likes the new cat at first, but he gradually comes to "dislike" it, and then it soon "disgusted and annoyed" him, and then he eventually grows to feel the "bitterness of hatred" for the cat. He fails to abuse it out of "shame, and the remembrance of [his] former deed" (murdering Pluto), and this sounds a great deal like guilt. The narrator's sense of guilt is vague at first—hard for him even to name—but it grows and begins to determine his behavior toward the cat. He admits that he "longed to destroy it" but holds back "partly by a memory of [his] former crime, but chiefly . . . by absolute dread of the beast." There is no reason to "dread" this cat if not for the feelings with which the narrator associates it; the cat seems to love him and is very affectionate. Perhaps the narrator dreads the cat because of what the cat represents, his own guilty conscience.

As his guilt seems to come into sharper focus, so does the noose of white fur on the new cat's breast. The narrator seems to feel guilty about hanging Pluto, and so the new cat now begins to manifest that guilt physically. The narrator feels that this "brute beast" is causing him "insufferable woe," but—again, the cat itself does nothing to cause this feeling, but the narrator's own guilty conscience, which he seems unable to recognize, could cause it. He says that he feels this woe to be "incumbent eternally upon [his] heart," strengthening the argument that it is guilt he feels, as this would weigh heavily upon him.

After the narrator murders his wife, a crime he calls "hideous" (an acknowledgement that seems to imply guilt), he hides her corpse in the wall, and he is relieved to see that the cat seems to have disappeared as well. He feels like he has gotten away with his crime, and he says that he "slept [tranquilly] even with the burden of murder upon [his] soul." With the cat gone, he seems to believe that he has escaped his guilty conscience, even saying that his "happiness was supreme!" and that "The guilt of [his] dark deed disturbed [him] but little"—though it does disturb him.  

Finally, the police come and search his home, and—finding nothing suspicious—they begin to take their leave. However, the narrator, inexplicably, feels a "rabid desire to say something easily" though he "scarcely knew what [he] uttered at all." The investigators were on their way out, and the narrator would have been home free if he would have kept his mouth shut, but he could not. He blathers on about the construction of the house, even striking the wall with his cane, and just as he could not keep his own mouth shut, the cat begins to "scream" and "howl" from behind the wall, giving the murderer away. The narrator's guilt compelled him to speak up just as he was about to get away with his crime, prompting the cat to "speak" too, symbolically linking the narrator's guilt with the second cat.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial