Last Updated on April 5, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 768
The narrator is a man who is going to be executed the next day, and he wants to tell his story before his death. As a child, he was docile and humane and tender, and he loved animals. His love of animals followed him into adulthood, and he and his wife acquired a number of pets early in their marriage, including one beautiful and very large black cat called Pluto. The narrator adores the cat but begins to overindulge in alcohol, changing his demeanor toward his wife and his pets. At first, he holds back from abusing the cat, but that eventually changes. Becoming irrationally angry with the cat one night, the narrator cuts one of the cat’s eyes out. Soon after, the narrator hangs the cat by the neck from a tree in the garden. He cries as he does so, but he cannot stop himself, though he knows that Pluto has done nothing wrong.
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One night not long after, he becomes drunk and finds another cat almost exactly like his first one, but this cat has a white mark on its chest. He takes the cat home but begins to develop an antipathy toward it, and then he notices that it, too, is missing one of its eyes. Soon, he feels that the white shape on the cat’s chest has altered; it now looks like a gallows. When the cat nearly trips him on the steps one day, the narrator swings an axe he is carrying, but his wife intercedes, saving the cat. So, the narrator kills his wife with the axe instead. He decides to wall up her body in the basement, but the cat is accidentally trapped in the wall with her corpse, and this is the narrator’s undoing. He insists that he is not mad, and he blames much of his murderous and vicious behavior on his alcoholism—he says that his “disease grew upon [him]—for what disease is like Alcohol!” It seems possible that drinking and his addiction to drink turns him into the monster he has become, especially given his gentleness as a child.
The Narrator’s Wife
The narrator’s wife is fond of animals and procures the couple’s first cat. The narrator does not tell us how she responds either to his growing abusive treatment toward her or his abuse of their first cat. However, she does bravely intercede on their second cat’s behalf when the narrator raises an axe to strike and kill it. When she steps in to save the cat, the narrator actually murders her instead, and then he walls up her body inside the cellar. However, the cat accidentally gets trapped there too, and the cat’s crying reveals the location of the body and the narrator’s guilt to the police.
Pluto is the narrator’s first cat and favorite pet, and he follows the narrator everywhere in the house. However, when the narrator becomes an alcoholic, he begins to mistreat all his pets, eventually including Pluto as well. First, he cuts out Pluto’s eye, and then, one night, he hangs the cat by the neck from a tree, killing it.
The Second Cat
The narrator befriends a second black cat after he has killed the first one. This cat is very like Pluto, the first, except that it has a white splotch on its chest, a splotch that begins to resemble a gallows the longer the cat lives with the narrator. This could be real, or it could be simply the narrator’s imagination and guilt pursuing him. This cat is also missing an eye, and it incurs the narrator’s wrath one day after it almost accidentally trips him while going down the basement steps. It somehow gets into the wall where the narrator is hiding his wife’s body and reveals the location of her corpse as well as the narrator’s guilt when the police search the premises.
Four days after the narrator murders his wife, the police arrive at his house. He is not at all worried about her body being discovered, because he has managed to hide it so cleverly. He allows the police to search the basement, and he is totally calm. The narrator knocks on the wall with his cane, tempting fate by doing so and commenting on how well-built the house is, and this sets the cat howling inside the wall. The cat’s yowling compels the police to tear down the wall, and they find the wife’s body and the cat.