Last Updated on July 25, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 490
Biblical Allusions: The biblical allusions in “The Black Cat” highlight its narrator’s struggle with sin and repentance. For example, the narrator expresses worry over the sin he commits in killing his cat, believing that God may withhold mercy due to his actions.
- After plastering his wife’s body up into the wall, the narrator says to himself, “Here at least, then, my labor has not been in vain.” This quote is an allusion to 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians describes the Last Judgment and resurrection of Christ. The allusion thus touches on the subject of resurrection, which figures in Poe’s story when the narrator’s new cat is so similar to Pluto that readers might wonder whether the cat returned from the dead.
- The narrator begs to be saved by God when he realizes that he has been caught and will be sentenced to die. The narrator exclaims, “But may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch-Fiend!” The narrator hopes to be saved from the “Arch-Fiend,” or devil, despite his immoral actions.
Mythological and Folkloric Allusions: “The Black Cat” includes allusions to both mythological and folkloric traditions. These allusions support the supernatural aspects of the story.
- The first mythological allusion is the superstition about black cats as shape-shifting witches in disguise. This allusion is made by the narrator’s wife, who comments on their black cat, Pluto, as being a witch.
- Black cats are seen in mythology in several other ways, as well. In Celtic mythology, there is a fairy creature called “Cat Sìth” which takes the form of a large, black cat with a marking of white upon its chest. This fairy cat of Celtic lore is strikingly similar to the second black cat that the narrator adopts. Furthermore, Cat Sìth is known in Scottish lore to be attracted to fire and to take the souls of corpses it is near. The second black cat in Poe’s story appeared after the large house fire and not only stayed near the corpse of the narrator’s wife, but aided in the corpse’s discovery.
- In the United States, black cats have been regarded as ill omens. The reading of black cats being an ill omen may be true in regards to Poe’s “The Black Cat”: the cat is an inadvertent instigator of the narrator’s loathing, annoyance, and madness, becomes a symbol of impending death for the narrator, and brings on the narrator’s downfall by signaling where his wife’s body is hidden in the cellar wall.
- Another allusion to mythology is the black cat’s name: Pluto. Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld, one of the short story’s many references to death and resurrection.