What is the setting of "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Having written so many grotesque stories, the reader might think that Poe’s personality was similar to the characters in his stories. According to critics of the time, Poe maintained many loving relationships and surprisingly even liked animals, particularly cats.

Edgar Allan Poe explored the psychology of the criminal mind; in addition, he often investigated evil in the hearts of men. “The Black Cat” becomes then an example of Poe’s probing the mind of someone so obsessed that he commits murder for no sane reason.

The narrator of the story is the main character, a nameless murderer.  As in many of Poe’s stories, the speaker intends to convince the reader that he is not insane, and he should not be held responsible for the crimes of which he is accused.  Of course, since he is to be hanged the next day, he is desperate to persuade the reader of his innocence.

Poe provides few details about his settings.  Unlike many of his stories with elaborate decorations, this story focuses more on the action of the main character.  There are several settings:

the  jail cell

This is a small space where the narrator is forced to examine    his    actions and his life.  He still refuses to take responsibility for his actions.

the narrator’s home

The first house becomes a prison cell for the wife and the pets. The reader discovers that the family has been rich and even had servants. When the house is destroyed by fire, after years of abuse, the pets finally escape their awful "home," and die tortured by the flames.

The bedroom wall that is left standing after the fire with its raised image of the cat foreshadows the second cat’s arrival in the man’s life.  It also represents the psychological hold that Pluto has on the narrator. 

the yard of the burned house

This is the place where Pluto is hung.  This foreshadows the death of the narrator as he will be hung the next day after his story is completed.

the new house

The second house is old and depressing.  The family has lost their wealth in the fire.

the bar where the second cat is found

The bar is a dirty, dank place where the narrator notices the cat sitting atop a huge barrel of wine.

the cellar

The cellar is another important aspect of setting.

One day she [the wife] accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the cellar of the old building which our poverty compelled us to inhabit…

It becomes a horrific scene because the wife innocently tries to protect her pet but is brutally killed. Her tomb becomes the cellar wall where her body will decompose and eventually be mutilated by the second cat, who has to live there for four days

It is unclear how much time elapses during the story. The span of time is detected only by the narrator’s perverted thoughts and actions which determine the course of the story.

joe30pl eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That is almost a trick question. The story has the classic trope of a narrator you can not trust, but from his words we can infer that he lives in a major city. Since Poe lived for much of his life in Baltimore, Maryland and the East Coast, it is no great stretch to believe that the story takes place somewhere in that general region, but as I said before, the unnamed narrator is possibly mad. If he says he lived in a large house, with servants, and that he owned several animals how can we trust him? A rural setting, for the narrator's first house, is a possibility, but after the fire the narrator moves to another house within walking distance, apparently, of a tavern. That would imply some degree of civilization. So we know he lives near a tavern, but that a sparse clue. In the end, we have little clue of just where exactly the narrator is, assuming the man was even telling the truth in the first place.

brandih eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Please see the link below for another answer.