What is the tone and mood of "The Black Cat"?

Poe’s tone in "The Black Cat" is ironic, as the narrator reports his horrific deeds in a matter-of-fact manner, claiming he is not mad, while it is perfectly clear to the reader that he is quite unstable. Mood refers to the text’s emotional atmosphere, and due, in part, to the foreshadowing of the narrator’s crimes, the mood of this text is ominous and threatening.

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The tone of a work is an author's attitude or feelings toward the subject matter. The tone of a piece of writing is often expressed through the author's writing style and diction.

The tone of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat" is ironic. The narrator tries to convince the audience of his sanity, while describing his own obviously insane behavior. He treats gravely serious events, such as the murder of his pet cat and his wife, with casual indifference. He does not appear at all remorseful as he describes the great care he takes in entombing his murdered wife in the wall of his basement. We see Poe's ironic attitude once again at the conclusion of the story. The narrator is so arrogant and confident in how well he hid his wife's body, he taps on the very same wall his wife is buried behind in the presence of the police officers investigating her disappearance. Much to his surprise, his taps are answered with the meowing of the cat he unknowingly walled up with his wife's corpse. The cat's sounds betray the narrator's evil deeds and brings them to the attention of the police officers.

The mood of a work is the atmosphere and feeling the author aims to create. In other words, the mood is how the author wants the reader to feel. Tone is often expressed through diction and descriptive writing techniques, such as use of imagery.

The mood Edgar Allan Poe creates in "The Black Cat" is ominous and horrific. Poe uses dark language throughout the story. The narrator's wife references the superstition that black cats are witches in disguise. The narrator's pet, Pluto, is named after the mythological god of death and the underworld. Poe hints at the possibility of supernatural forces in the story. For example, just after the narrator kills Pluto, his house is engulfed in a fire. When the narrator visits the burned ruins of the house, there is a single unburned wall which shows the outline of a large cat with a noose around its neck. Soon after the narrator's brief episode of remorse over killing Pluto, he finds a cat in a tavern. The cat bears striking similarity to Pluto, with the exception of a patch of white fur on its chest. All of these things could be strange coincidences, figments of the insane, an unreliable narrator's imagination, or evidence of supernatural forces at play.

Poe foreshadows the narrator's doom throughout the story. From the start, the narrator tells us that he is going to die the following day. The outline of the hanged cat on the wall after the fire suggests the cat will somehow lead to the narrator's undoing. The narrator's downfall is once again foreshadowed when he notices that the patch of white fur on the second cat's chest has taken the shape of the gallows.

Through his dark descriptions, supernatural references, and use of foreshadowing, Poe creates an ominous atmosphere of suspense and horror.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on November 5, 2020
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The tone of the story is grimly ironic. The irony emerges from the way the horrific events that unfold show the opposite of what the narrator intends: he is trying to argue that he is not mad, but his thoughts and behaviors suggests a highly twisted, troubled, and mentally unstable character who poses a serious danger to society. In addition, the almost matter-of-fact way that the narrator describes his horrific behavior, such as cutting his cat's eye out, creates a terrifying slippage between word and deed.

The mood or emotion that the story evokes is one of fright and horror. It is the type of story that chills the blood because the narrator's mind, under the influence of alcoholism, is so evidently in a place that renders him capable of enacting depraved behaviors. He speaks of turning from love to abuse of animals, he cuts out his cat's eye, as mentioned above, and he kills his wife with an axe and walls up her body. This behavior is beyond strange: it plays on humanity's fears of what happens when an individual lets loose his darkest impulses towards sadism and destruction.

"The Black Cat" shows Poe's gifts as a horror writer. His willingness to describe terrifying behavior as if, in the mind of his narrator, it is ordinary, elicits from us powerful reactions of fear.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on November 4, 2020
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Tone is how the author feels about the subject of a text, while mood describes the emotional atmosphere created by the text—or, put more simply, how the reader is supposed to feel while reading the text. In allowing the narrator to tell his own story, Poe’s tone becomes harder to discern. With a third-person narrator, Poe could have infused a great deal of his own thoughts about the narrator and his actions into the text, and he does not take this opportunity. However, I think that it is possible to discern some judgment on Poe’s part, especially when the narrator seems to care more about telling his own story rather than feeling guilty or grief-stricken for the wife he so cruelly murdered. The murderer only cares to “unburden [his] soul” rather than atone or repent for his misdeeds.

The narrator describes how he was “noted for the docility and humanity” of his personality when he was younger, how he was even made fun of as a result of his “tenderness of heart.” Such details become a little harder to believe when one reads what the narrator has done both to his pets and to his wife. His repeated insistence that he is not mad—despite the fact that he murdered his wife in cold blood and then happily walled up her corpse in his cellar—is also chilling. Therefore, I would describe the mood of the text as ominous and dark. The narrator foreshadows his crime by telling us that he dies “to-morrow” in the first paragraph, and so we can assume that he is being executed for this crime. Our sense of tension ought to build as we await his confession of that crime.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on November 4, 2020
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To achieve tone, which is dependent upon diction and style, writers manipulate language in an attempt to demonstrate how they feel about the narrative. With such an unreliable narrator as Poe uses in "The Black Cat," the tone is variable. At times, it is unwittingly ironic and irreverent; at others, it is dark and mocking.

IRONIC AND IRREVERENT

  • In the exposition, the narrator states that he proposes to retell "mere household events" that seem to him "little but horror" while to others they will "seem less terrible than baroque." 
  • The narrator states that he grew more irritable with his wife and "at length I even offered her personal violence." [the use of "offered" is ironic and disrespectful to his wife]
  • When he attempts killing the second cat, the narrator's wife intervenes and he ironically narrates, "Goaded by this interference into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain."
  • In the next paragraph, the narrator's tone is irreverently calm as he describes how he set about with "deliberation" to conceal his dastardly deed.

DARK AND MOCKING

  • After he murders his wife, the narrator reflects "The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little." He adds, "I looked upon my future felicity as finally secure.
  • When the police arrive unexpectedly, the narrator asserts that he is "[S]ecure in the inscrutability of my place of concealment, I felt no embarrassment whatever."
  • As the police depart, he tells them, "Gentlemen, I am delighted to have allayed your suspicions. I wish you all health and a little more courtesy. Taunting them, he says, "By the way, gentlemen, this--this is a very well-constructed house...."
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