Introduction to The Black Cat

Edgar Allan Poe first published “The Black Cat” in 1843 in the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post. The narrator tells the story of his pet black cat, Pluto, whom he initially loves and treats with great care. But after increasingly suffering the effects of alcoholism, the narrator injures and then kills his cat in fits of irrational rage. The story takes a ghostly turn as the narrator is then haunted by what appears to be a reincarnation of Pluto. This haunting drives the narrator into the depths of madness.

“The Black Cat” is formally notable for its narrative structure. It is framed as a kind of confession, told from the narrator’s present-day vantage point. Wracked by guilt and horror at his actions, he seeks to “unburthen [his] soul” by telling his terrible tale. Thus, the narrator tells of his past crimes but does not justify them; to the contrary, he underscores their horror. With its grim subject matter, gothic atmosphere, and baroque style, “The Black Cat” is representative of Poe’s fictional oeuvre.

A Brief Biography of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) was an American writer who gained fame for his gothic tales. Poe’s life story makes it easy to see where the author got his ideas and how his work relates to his experience. First, his father abandoned the family; then his mother died when he was very young, and his foster father, John Allen, erratically swung between lenience and extreme discipline; finally, Poe married his much younger cousin Virginia, who died at an early age. It’s no wonder, then, that Poe's work focused on the macabre, the bizarre, and the outcast—the wonder is that he found a way to make such striking art from his suffering. Before his death at age forty, Edgar Allan Poe raised the American short story to a new level, writing works that completely modernized detective fiction, science fiction, and, of course, the horror story. His most well-known works include the poems “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee”; the short stories ”The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher”; and the novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Black Cat

The Black Cat

Nearing the end of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat," the story's narrator, in an attempt to kill his second cat, murders his wife when she tries to stop him. Wishing to avoid having his crime...

Latest answer posted March 20, 2021, 11:44 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

In the first paragraph of "The Black Cat," the narrator says that he will die "tomorrow," which is why he must unburden his soul by confessing his sins today. The story he tells is more of a...

Latest answer posted March 22, 2021, 11:31 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

Days after he murders his wife with an ax and then hides her body in the cellar walls, several policemen visit the narrator. They come into the house to observe the premises. Not wanting to arouse...

Latest answer posted March 22, 2021, 11:22 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

The climax of a written work occurs when the tension and action of the plot reach their highest point. This marks a turning point in the story, after which the repercussions of the climax are...

Latest answer posted March 21, 2021, 11:53 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

The narrator of "The Black Cat" confesses to being plagued by mood swings. He blames this on his bad drinking habit. These mood swings do not merely make the narrator grouchy but incite him to both...

Latest answer posted March 22, 2021, 11:47 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

The narrator of the story has two black cats. He hangs the first one, Pluto, and that night his house burns down, presumably taking the body of the cat with it. The second black cat, much like...

Latest answer posted March 22, 2021, 11:36 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

The narrator's wife appears to have mixed feelings about cats. While he suggests she shares his liking of animals and brings many "agreeable" pets into the house because she knows how much he likes...

Latest answer posted March 21, 2021, 11:37 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Black Cat," the narrator describes how he has always loved animals and how he was particularly fond of his large black cat, which he called Pluto. Even when he...

Latest answer posted March 21, 2021, 11:31 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

The antagonist of a story is the character who is in conflict with the protagonist, and the protagonist is the main character of the story. The main character in "The Black Cat" is the narrator,...

Latest answer posted March 21, 2021, 11:42 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

The conflict in "The Black Cat" is that of man against himself or, one might also say, man against alcohol. It is this internal conflict that creates all the external conflicts in the story and...

Latest answer posted March 21, 2021, 2:21 pm (UTC)

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The Black Cat

The narrator of "The Black Cat" could be considered unreliable for a number of reasons. First, he tells us that he is not "mad," but he very well could be. This is a person who tells us that he...

Latest answer posted March 20, 2021, 11:35 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

At the story's beginning, the narrator insists that he is not mad, and he presents himself as a victim. Indeed, he tells us that he will die on the following day, and he says that he is telling us...

Latest answer posted March 20, 2021, 11:28 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

The narrator of "The Black Cat" kills his wife because she dares to prevent him from killing their pet cat. As he goes down into their cellar one day, she goes with him, and the cat nearly trips...

Latest answer posted March 20, 2021, 11:47 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

The narrator in "The Black Cat" is not particularly remorseful. When he describes the murder of his wife and how he came to the conclusion of what to do with her dead body, he focuses more on how...

Latest answer posted March 20, 2021, 11:14 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

Having said that his cat, Pluto, was unusually intelligent, the narrator of "The Black Cat" continues: In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with...

Latest answer posted March 22, 2021, 11:55 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

The mood of "The Black Cat" is one of foreboding and menace. The speaker immediately insists that he does not expect us to believe him, that he is not a madman, and that he is scheduled to die...

Latest answer posted March 19, 2021, 12:55 pm (UTC)

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The Black Cat

Early on in the story, the narrator decides to deliberately cut out one of the eyes of his cat. This is a completely irrational and sadistic act of cruelty. Ironically, it is only really after one...

Latest answer posted March 19, 2021, 12:24 pm (UTC)

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The Black Cat

In "The Black Cat," one morning, the narrator decides to kill his pet cat by hanging it from its neck. This act of cruelty then plagues the narrator throughout the rest of the story, causing him to...

Latest answer posted March 19, 2021, 11:24 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

The wife symbolizes common decency and faithfulness. There is not much said about the wife, beyond what she does: knowing that her husband loves animals, she gets him lots of pets; she apparently...

Latest answer posted March 19, 2021, 11:48 am (UTC)

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The Black Cat

Essentially, everything the speaker owns is swallowed up by the fire. He awakens in the middle of the night to find that the curtains surrounding his bed are in flames, and he soon sees that the...

Latest answer posted March 19, 2021, 1:15 pm (UTC)

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Summary