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Gothic elements in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat."


Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat" contains several Gothic elements, including psychological horror, a dark and eerie setting, and themes of guilt and madness. The story explores the protagonist's descent into insanity, driven by his obsession with the cat and his subsequent violent actions, creating an atmosphere of terror and suspense typical of Gothic literature.

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What are the gothic elements in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat"?

The enotes to Gothic literature make mention of the element of "privileged irrationality and passion over rationality and reason."  This chaos of irrationality seems to be what moves the plot of "The Black Cat" by Poe and is its most salient feature.  Even the narrator suggests his own abnormality:

Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the commonplace....Some calmer intellect, more logical, less excitable than mine will perceive...nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.

That the narrator is "friends" with the cat in the beginning, yet he "maltreats" it by "a fiendish malevolence" in his "frame" which induces him to cut one of the cats eyes out points to his "privileged irrationality."  In a chaos of confusion, the next day he feels some remorse for his act.  Nevertheless, he subsequently hangs the cat

because I knew that it had loved me and had given me no reason of offense--hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin, a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul....

After his house is ruined by fire, the disturbed narrator returns to the ruins to see the cat in relief: cast in what had been freshly spread plaster.  This "phantasm" of the cat remains with the narrator, who takes in another black cat.  One day, however, in the chaos of his mind, he becomes angered at the second cat who causes him to trip.  With an axe, he attempts to kill the cat; instead, his hand is stopped by his wife.

Goaded by this interference into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain.  She fell dead upon the spot without a groan.

This act is surely one of chaotic irrationality.  It is horrific, too.  When he cannot find the cat to rid himself of it, the narrator worries no more.  Nor is he worried by the several visits by the police. Irrationally, the narrator boasts of his sturdily constructed walls, and a shriek is heard.  Upon tearing down the wall on which the narrator has rapped, the police discover the decayed remains of the woman and the black cat whom the narrator describes,

with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman....

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What are the gothic elements in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat"?

Gothic literature has several distinguishing features.  It often focuses on the dark, evil side of human nature.  It asserts that everyone has a dark side, and in these stories, we find the characters giving in to that dark side, and doing awful things.  Also, gothic literature has elements of the supernatural or unexplainable to it; ghosts, paranormal activities, and malevolent hauntings.  Gothic literature also focuses on the confusing complexities of the human mind; characters often get lost in their thoughts, and suffer breakdowns from mental anguish and instability.

If we look at the story, the narrator grew up a kind, loving and amiable man.  He has a "docility and humanity" in his "disposition," and is kind to all people, and animals.  However, the story takes a gothic twist when, because of "intemperence," or alcholism, his personality suffers a "radical alteration for the worse."  He becomes violent, ill-tempered, and abuses both his wife and all of their pets.  The narrator has given into his darker side, and it leads to the death of his wife, and his trying to cover it up.  So, we see a narrator who embodies the gothic concept of "mankind's dark side."

Also in the story are elements of the supernatural.  The narrator has disturbing visions of hanged cats, and his own cat inspired "terror and horror" within him.  The black cat, supposedly disappeared, appears again, to torment the narrator and remind him of his evil deed, all while the cops are right there with him.  So, the supernatural spiritual manifestation of the cat was occuring throughout the end of the story; this focus on ghosts and supernatural events is another gothic trait.

We see the narrator becoming lost in the maze of his own mind as the story continues, which is another gothic trait.  He is tormented unusually and illogically by the black cat, and dwells on it so much that it drives him crazy.

Those are just a couple gothic elements to the story "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe.  I hope that they help; good luck!

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What are the gothic elements in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat"?

At the bottom, I have included two links, both of which provide good definitions and examples of Gothic literature or Gothic fiction.

The Black Cat is filled with elements of Gothic literature, as are most of Poe's other works. Ruins are common settings within Gothic literature, as are horror, death, and decay, among many other things. All of these things can be found in Poe's story. Horror overlays much of the narrator's tale, either his own horror at what he did or ours for the same reason. When his house burns down, it is left in ruins, which he later visits and sees an image of the cat he hung. That cat, Pluto, was the first death, which was eventually followed by his wife's murder at his own hands. Decay can be found at the end of the story, when his wife's body is discovered "already greatly decayed and clotted with gore."

There is one other element of Gothic literature that can be found in this story, but in a very interesting way. Gothic novels have an archetypal hero and villain (meaning they follow a pattern): the hero is usually isolated, and the villain is usually true evil, often because of implicit malevolence. I say that these archetypes appear in an interesting way because the narrator follows both rather than having two separate characters. At first, the narrator is isolated because he prefers animals to humans; but then a malevolence takes over him for no real reason and he takes to harming innocent creatures simply because he wants to.

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What are three Gothic elements used in "The Black Cat"?

I would start off by observing that this excellent story uses a classic hallmark of Gothic literature: the unreliable narrator. This is of course a Gothic element that Poe uses elsewhere in his shorter fiction to great effect in stories such as "The Tell-Tale Heart." Consider how the narrator introduces himself and tries to present himself as a reasonable, thining individual:

For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad I am not--and very surely do I not dream.

Poe deliberately makes us question the reliability of such a narrator and whether indeed the credibility of the narrator given what he tells us about himself and his drunkenness can be trusted.

Secondly, there is reference to maddened rage and violence, especially in the acts of anger perpetrated by the narrator. Consider how he reacts to being slightly bitten by the cat:

The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer... I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket!

The excess of emotion and anger that is here refered to is a key feature of Gothic literature, as we enter the dark realms of the psyche of man and see all the horrendous deeds and acts he is capable of doing.

Lastly, consider the supernatural elements of this story, in particular in the way that Pluto is somehow "resurrected" in the form of a new cat which, like Pluto, lacks one of its eyes. The only difference is the white mark which represents the "gallows." This, combined with the figure of the "gigantic cat" that is left on the wall after the fire and the way in which the cat is shut up with the body of his dead wife clearly hints at supernatural happenings that are beyond our reason or comprehension.

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