Critical Discussion

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This terrifying tale embodies Poe’s ideas about the pathological workings of the criminal mind. Poe believed that criminals are disposed to give themselves away not because of guilt but from the anticipated pleasure of defying moral authority. The narrator seems to relish the notion that his crime of hanging Pluto is a sin “beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.” His otherwise inexplicable act of preventing the police from departing and rapping on the bricks that conceal his wife’s body is driven by the narrator’s desire to “cap” his “triumph.”

At the very start of this account, the narrator says, “for the most wild yet homely narrative I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief.” Yet he couches his tale as a confession, and this clearly requires that we give his tale credibility. Throughout his account, the narrator undercuts his own credibility. He says, for example, that his purpose is to relate the events of his crime, which he characterizes as “a series of mere household events,” “plainly, succinctly, and without comment.” But he nonetheless immediately digresses by talking about the superstitious association between black cats and witches, which he mentions “for no better reason than that it happens, just now, to be remembered.” Later on, he claims that he is “above” attempting to discern a sequence of cause and effect behind the appearance of the dead Pluto’s image on the charred wall, but in the very next paragraph, he advances a speculative theory of how this occurred.

The narrator never take responsibilities for his deeds. He blames the Fiend Intemperance, he then points to the spirit of PERVERSENESS, but ultimately, it is Pluto and his replacement that the narrator identifies as the real culprit(s). Fusing Pluto and the second cat together, he claims that it is the “Arch-Fiend” cat “whose craft has seduced me into murder.” At the same time, the narrator symbolically shares the most outstanding feature of the two cats that he comes to despise. Like both of these felines, the narrator is half-blind, committing horrid acts but being unable to clearly see what has happened. As the tale unfolds, the language he uses connotes feral characteristics, as when he tells us of his “rabid” desire to make conversation with the police or says that he frequented “vile haunts.” By the tale’s conclusion, we know that rather than being a victim of a hellish beast, the narrator is himself the real beast.

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