What is the single effect in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat?"

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This depends on the perspective and personal schema of the reader, but one single effect that The Black Cat tends to produce is aversion. The man, who in the beginning of the story is a lover of animals and has a special connection with this black cat, Pluto, presents himself to us sweetly and kindly. It is the type of character that we all want to read about. Like a nice and welcoming dessert, we gobble him up well.

Then, the problem begins. The character's naturally sweet and healthy nature suddenly and radically turns evil, tortures his cat Pluto, and then kills him. This is a somewhat disgusting turn of events, and the sudden nature of it makes the reader literally feel as if we'd like to "throw up" the character who once made us feel warm and fuzzy and now is revolting and cruel, and evil.

As he progresses with his insanity and the nature of his actions begin to create consequences, we are more and more disgusted by this character, and we want to see him eliminated. The change in perspective from beginning to end is so radical that there is no other way to feel but a sense of aversion against him.

eilarmos | Student

Thes single effect is captured by the ugly conceptualization of death. The story of "The Black Cat” dwelt on crime and violence to reveal the principle of karma in relation to death. It revealed death as a punishment for the morbid thoughts of man that results to wrong doings and decisions, bringing him bad fate.

The story utilizes the “black cat” as a symbolism of the devil—being the cause of death. In the Bible, it is him who is the reason why God took away immortality from Adam and Eve. The devil is also the one who persuades people to commit sin, and according to Romans, chapter six, verse twenty three: “The wages of sin is death.” This Bible verse is carried out by the narrator in the denouement of the story, after the police found the corpse at the cellar, he says, “Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman.”

The symbolism of the black cat being the devil is further reinforced by the imagery used to describe it, such as “solitary eye” and “hideous beast”; these descriptions are usually associated to the devil; and the phrases: “seduced me to murder” and “consigned me to the hangman” are commonly associated to the works of the devil.

The cat is the root cause of his madness and misfortune, and his future painful death—being a hangman as he anticipates it to be the punishment for the crime. Again, this emphasizes that death in itself is associated with bad act…something that in itself calls for retribution and punishment.

The notion that the cat symbolizes the devil is also supported by several statements about it. At the beginning of the story the narrator relates, “…my wife…made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise.” it is palpable that witches are commonly conceived to be evil and practitioners of dark magic, which are believed to be of the devil.

The black cat also symbolizes the negative aspect of death that causes fear and terror to man. Death in itself is associated with bad act…something that in itself calls for retribution and punishment is reiterated. The narrator, being guilty of committing a crime against Pluto now fears its consequence. Upon noticing that the new cat seems to be a ghost or the reincarnation of Pluto, the narrator expressed his terror:

…I loathed, and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster had I dared - it was now, I say, the image of a hideous - of a ghastly thing - of the GALLOWS ! - oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime - of Agony and of Death !

The cat also causes fear and anxiety in the thoughts of the narrator, this is obvious as he relates how he was frightened by the cat, “I started, hourly, from dreams of unutterable fear, to find the hot breath of the thing upon my face, and its vast weight - an incarnate Night-Mare that I had no power to shake off - incumbent eternally.”

The narrator ends up a culprit due to the murder of his wife, out of capricious violence and madness towards the black cat; and the cat being blamed by the narrator for seducing him to do the crime, thus bringing him to his fate, manifested the concept of death in the story. The whole idea of death bounces back to argument that death in itself is associated with bad act…something that in itself calls for retribution and punishment.


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The Black Cat

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