Last Updated on September 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 604
So you’re going to teach Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat.” Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, “The Black Cat” has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its challenges—depictions of alcohol abuse, murder, and animal abuse—teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. Studying “The Black Cat” will give them insight into Poe’s use of an unreliable narrator, figurative language, and important themes surrounding sanity and madness and good versus evil. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.
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Facts at a Glance
- Publication Date: 1843
- Grade Level: 7-10
- Approximate Word Count: 3,850
- Author: Edgar Allan Poe
- Country of Origin: United States
- Genre: Gothic Short Story
- Literary Period: American Romanticism, Gothic
- Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Self
- Narration: First-Person
- Setting: Unspecified
- Dominant Literary Devices: Imagery, Metaphor, Symbolism
- Mood: Irrational, Divulgent, Deranged
Texts that Go Well with “The Black Cat”
“The Cask of Amontillado” (1846) is another short story by Edgar Allan Poe. It is a tale of revenge—Montresor lures the drunken Fortunato into the Montresor family cellar and proceeds to bury Fortunato alive. “The Cask of Amontillado” pairs well with “The Black Cat” with each story encouraging readers to question the motivations of its narrator.
“The Repairer of Reputations” is a short story by Robert W. Chambers, published in his collection The King in Yellow in 1895. It is narrated by Hildred, who has experienced a drastic personality change due to a head injury. Hildred is obsessive and delusional, leaving readers to question the truth of his narration as he seeks to fulfill his destiny as king of an Imperial American dynasty. “The Repairer of Reputations” and “The Black Cat” pair well, because both encourage readers to question the veracity of the story’s events through unreliable narration.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) is a gothic novella by Robert Louis Stevenson. Dr. Jekyll, a London doctor, concocts a potion that brings out his evil and violent side—Mr. Hyde. The otherwise respectable doctor uses the form of Hyde to roam the streets of London committing crimes. The story focuses on the dual nature of man, and the primal and violent urges that humans suppress while living in society. “The Black Cat” explores a similar theme, as the narrator deals with a dual personality split between good and evil. The narrator eventually succumbs to his evil impulses in “The Black Cat,” just as Dr. Jekyll succumbs to the wicked Mr. Hyde.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843), by Edgar Allan Poe, is a short story about the irrational murder of an elderly man. The man’s murderer—the narrator of the story—hides the body under his floorboards. While speaking with the police in the middle of the crime scene, the narrator begins to hear the beating of his victim’s heart. Frantic with guilt and fear, he confesses to the murder. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is similar to “The Black Cat” in that both stories feature an unreliable narrator and themes surrounding guilt, madness, and death.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) is a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The story is told through a series of journal entries in which its narrator relates her increasing detachment from reality and her husband’s ill-treatment of her mental health. Much as “The Black Cat” uses its narrator to address the topics of mental illness and alcohol abuse, “The Yellow Wallpaper” uses its narrator to address themes of oppression and silencing.
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