Last Updated on July 28, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 574
The Narrator Introduces His Story: The narrator states that he will detail for the readers the series of “mere household events” that have brought him to ruin. He explains that he had always been a docile person and a great lover of animals. His wife, who is of a similar disposition, buys pets to keep in their home. His favorite is a large black cat named Pluto.
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The Narrator Increases His Drinking: The narrator describes a change in his personality due to the “Fiend Intemperance,” or alcohol, becoming irritable and mean and abusing his wife and animals. When Pluto scratches the narrator, he becomes enraged and cuts out one of Pluto’s eyes. The cat heals but is now fearful of the narrator, who is grieved by his actions. To combat the guilt, he drinks more.
The Narrator Becomes Immoral: The narrator’s feelings of guilt are soon overridden by something he calls “the spirit of PERVERSENESS.” This change in his temperament makes him lose empathy for those around him, and he begins to “do wrong for the wrong’s sake only.” One day he hangs and kills Pluto, weeping while he does it since he understands that he is sinning and feels bitterly remorseful.
The Narrator’s House Burns Down: The narrator’s house catches fire, and everything is burned. Examining the ruins after the fire, the narrator finds a crowd of people around a still-standing wall. The crowd is looking at an imprint on the wall: a cat with a noose around its neck. The narrator is astounded by this sight and tries to rationalize it. In the following months, “the phantasm of the cat” haunts him.
The Narrator Acquires Another Black Cat: At a tavern, the narrator notices a black cat. It looks remarkably similar to Pluto, being the same size and color, except for a splotch of white fur on its chest. The narrator befriends the cat and takes it home, where his wife becomes fond of it. Soon, however, the narrator begins to loathe the cat. It is a reminder of his awful actions, and its affection for him only annoys him. He notices, the morning after its adoption, that the cat is missing the same eye as Pluto, and over time, the white mark on the cat’s chest clarifies to resemble the shape of a gallows.
The Narrator Falls Deeper into Madness: The narrator succumbs to evil thoughts and actions. He abuses his wife and feels a hatred “of all things and of all mankind.” One day he and his wife go down to the cellar. The new cat follows and nearly trips him. In a burst of rage, he grabs an axe and tries to kill the cat, but his wife stops him, pushing him into “a rage more than demoniacal.” He kills her and seals her body up in the wall of the cellar.
The Wife’s Body Is Discovered: The police search the narrator’s home for his missing wife. The narrator acts calmly, assured of her body’s concealment. As they search the cellar, the narrator tells them how well-constructed the walls are. He raps his cane on the wall in which he enclosed his wife’s body. As he does so, a terrible yowl rings out. The police take down the wall and find the decayed body of the narrator’s wife, with the still-alive, one-eyed black cat perched upon her head.