In "The Black Cat" where is the narrator as he writes this story?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Black Cat” is sitting in a prison cell, presumably on death row, waiting to be executed for the crime of murder. In the story’s opening paragraph, the narrator notes that “tomorrow I die,” which, by itself, is not necessarily significant in terms of identifying his whereabouts. As the story progresses, he relates how he was driven insane by the presence of a black cat in his home, one of many pets owned by him and his wife. Over time, he succumbs to alcoholism, which sours his previously upbeat disposition, as he states, " . . . my general temperament and character—through the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance—had (I blush to confess it) experienced a radical alteration for the worse.” He develops a murderous rage with respect to the cat, named Pluto.

As Poe’s story continues, the narrator describes his growing disdain for his wife as well as for a newly-arrived and very mysterious black cat and the white splotch of fur on this new cat’s breast that assumes disturbing shapes. It is during his discussion of the peculiar characteristics of this new black cat that the narrator references “this felon’s cell,” providing definitive proof of his whereabouts as he describes his final descent into a murderous rage, that results in the death of his wife, his decision to entomb his wife’s remains behind a wall that he dutifully constructs, the visit by the police, and the horrifying screeches of the cat, which he had inadvertently imprisoned behind the newly constructed wall along with his wife’s body.

While it is established that the narrator is telling his story from the confines of a prison cell, the final paragraph of “The Black Cat” provides another clue that he is, indeed, on death row and is awaiting his execution by hanging (“consigned me to the hangman”). The answer to the question regarding the narrator’s location as he tells his story, then, is a prison cell.

mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To answer this question, it helps to look really closely at the text, and especially at the very beginning and ending of the story.

Let's take a look at the ending of the story first, to get an idea of what probably happened to him after the story's events occurred.  At the end, the police had torn down the wall and discovered the remains of his murdered wife; at this, we have to conclude that the man was arrested and taken to jail.  Now, look at the beginning paragraph--in it lie confirmations of that assumption.  The narrator states in that opening paragraph that he is going to tell us a story, that he really wants us to believe.  Why is he so motivated to tell the tale?  He states,

"Yet, mad am I not—and very surely do I not dream. But tomorrow I die, and today I would unburthen my soul."

He states that he is going to die tomorrow, and hence wants to unburden his soul from the weight of his awful act.  He wants the entire world to know the true story, the awful details of the event, even if they do sound strange.  He wants the truth out before he leaves this world.  So, why would he be dying?  Most likely, he is in prison, and received a sentence of death, and he is condemned to die the next day.  That is the logical conclusion that one can draw from the hints given.  So, the narrator is telling his story from the walls of his prison, on the day before his execution.

I hope that those thoughts helped to clear things up!  Good luck!

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The man could, perhaps, be in a confessional, providing the details of his sins so that he can be absolved of sin before he dies. He does mention in the first paragraph that he knows he will die tomorrow and that he desires to "unburthen [his] soul." The fact that the narrator is concerned with the state of his soul likely has to do with the fact that he has committed a sinful act that will very much impact what happens to his soul when he dies. 

In fact, he says in the penultimate paragraph of the story, "may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch-Fiend," a sort of nickname for the Devil, so the narrator is obviously concerned about where he'll be spending eternity. In this line, he conveys his hope that God will not send him to Hell after he dies, and so it seems quite possible that he is confessing his sins now so that he can be absolved and forgiven before that happens.