Is  "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe  a horror  story?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As in many of Poe’s stories, "The Black Cat" employs a  narrator who spends the entire story trying to convince the reader (and most importantly himself) about his mental stability.  Obviously, when a man commits the heinous crimes that this man has, there is something terribly wrong.

The story would certainly qualify for the horror genre of stories.  The details of the story feature the murder of the narrator’s wife, burying an axe in her head.  To add to the horrific crime, the man walls up his wife's body  in the cellar of their house. The point of view is first person with the narrator sitting in jail awaiting his execution the next day.

Nothing constitutes revulsion more than the maiming of an innocent animal.  The cutting out of the cat’s eye both shocks and disgusts.  Taking the horror to the next level, the man hangs the cat on a limb of a tree in the yard.  What really amazes the reader is that the narrator once loved Pluto, his beautiful, black cat.

Pluto—this was the cat’s name—was my favorite pet and playmate. I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house

The narrator,  as his tells his story the night before his execution,  does not connect the dots of his descent into lunacy:

  • The name of the cat is Pluto: the Roman god of the underworld [hell].
  • Another cat shows up with a white spot in the shape of the gallows [a little of Poe’s foreshadowing] with a missing eye no less.
  • He blames everything on his drinking.

My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin nurtured, thrilled every fiber of my frame. 

  • The night he kills the cat his house burns, taking all of his possessions.

My entire worldly wealth was swallowed up, and I resigned myself thence forward to despair.

  • He explains away the disturbing bas relief of the hanging cat on the wall in the ruins of his house.  [Remember the name of the car was Pluto.]
  • After the death of his wife, the narrator shows no remorse or grief. 

The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little.

  • He accepts no responsibility for his actions.

The corpse, already greatly decayed andclotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators. Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder...

Of course, what had the cat done but survive on the flesh of the body of the wife.

Poe’s short stories deal with death, graves, near-death, and beating hearts of the dead. None of those stories surpass the dreadfulness of this chronicle of a man driven by alcoholism and insanity to murder and maiming.  This is a horror story of the highest order.