The Black Cat Study Guide
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.