illustrated portrait of American author of gothic fiction Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

Start Free Trial

What are the similarities and differences between "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat"?

Quick answer:

"The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" both feature an unreliable first-person narrator confessing to a murder, which is discovered when a sound is heard coming from the tomb. "The Black Cat" is the more complex story of the two. The murder is unpremeditated, whereas in "The Tell-Tale Heart," it is carefully planned. Additionally, the narrator in "The Black Cat" is an alcoholic, committing his acts of violence against both the cat and his wife under the influence of alcohol.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As one would expect from Edgar Allan Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” both deal with grotesque, horrific events carried out by men with serious mental health problems. In the latter, we see an alcoholic who kills his pets before murdering his wife; and in the former, we have the story of a crazed killer who murdered an old man only to find himself confronted by the sound of his heart beating beneath the floorboards.

A further similarity between the stories is that they're told by an unreliable narrator, a standard trope in Poe. As well as being mentally unbalanced, the narrator of “The Black Cat” is also, as we have seen, an alcoholic. This inevitably makes us wonder whether he isn't imagining some of the things he tells us.

The narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” is also unreliable, but with the difference being that his unreliability cannot be attributed to the effects of alcohol. It appears, for whatever reason, that he's mad. Our initial impressions are confirmed by his insistence that he was driven to murder the old man by his victim's supposedly “evil eye.”

In any case, both men confess. Whether what they confess is an entirely accurate account of events is a different matter entirely.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The Tell-Tale Heart" is a first-person narrative by an unreliable narrator of questionable sanity. He is constantly attempting to reassure his audience that he is not mad, yet he describes his behavior in a way that seems to suggest that he is. He has murdered the old man with whom he lived and can give no explanation except his dislike of the old man's pale blue eye, which looks like that of a vulture. The murder is carefully planned and executed, and the narrator hides the corpse beneath the floorboards. He is confident of having escaped detection, but as soon as the police arrives, he believes that he hears the old man's heartbeat and gives himself away immediately.

"The Black Cat" also has a first-person unreliable narrator, who may be insane, though he is less nervous and erratic than the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart." He also commits murder and bricks up the victim, his wife, in the wall of his house. Although this was an unpremeditated, almost accidental crime, the narrator is able to hide it successfully at first. He is then betrayed, as in "The Tell-Tale Heart," by a sound from within the tomb.

Structurally, the stories are very similar: a first-person narrator, who may be mad, commits murder and hides the corpse. He then hears a sound from the hiding place, which gives away his crime. The principal differences are the lack of intention to commit murder in "The Black Cat" and the role of alcoholism in that story. "The Black Cat" is also a more complex story, and it is related in a less agitated manner.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Both of these stories have narrators that murder someone and bury them in a part of their house.  Both of the narrators are caught by the police.  Both have supernatural events occur to them (or, at least, a hallucination of their senses)--in "The Black Cat" the man thinks he sees the cat everywhere, and in "The Tell-Tale Heart" he thinks he hears the dead man's heartbeat.  Both narrators have been put into confinement--one in jail, about to be executed ("The Black Cat"), and the other one is some other indeterminate form of confinement, from which he is eager to prove he is not insane.  Both are written in the first-person point of view.

Differences between the two are in the narrator's intent in the murders--in "The Tell-Tale Heart" he planned his murder for a long time, stealthily waiting for the right moment, whereas the narrator in "The Black Cat" killed his moment with no forethought, but in a moment of blind rage.  The narrators were found out in different ways too; in "The Tell-Tale Heart" the narrator confessed openly, when he was afraid of being found out, but in "The Black Cat," the police found out not through a confession, but through discovering the body themselves.  The narrator in "The Black Cat" was an alcoholic, which led to his temper and problems, but the narrator in the other was not--he just claimed to have a "heightened sense of hearing" from a "disease."  Granted, that disease could have been alcoholism, but it isn't specified.  The supernatural thing that drives these men crazy in the stories is different--in one it's a cat, in the other it's a heartbeat.  And, the purpose in telling their tales also differs.  In "The Black Cat" the narrator says it is just his way of unburdening his soul before he dies; for "The Tell-Tale Heart" the narrator tells his story in a desperate attempt to prove that he isn't insane.

I hope that those thoughts helped a bit; good luck!

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the differences and similarities between Edgar Allan Poe's short stories "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado"?

In "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado," both stories are told from the perspective of narrators who may be considered unreliable in their presentation of reality. Both stories feature bizarre murders in which the narrators attempt to justify and rationalize the killings.

In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the increasingly desperate narrator attempts to convince the reader that the old man had an air of sinisterness about him, via an "evil eye," that justifies the murder. In "The Cask of Amontillado," the narrator, Montresor, also provides vague reasoning for murdering his foe by explaining that Fortunato was not genuine in his interactions with Montresor. In both stories, the victims are hidden in the houses in which they were murdered. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the victim is chopped up and hidden in the floorboards. In "The Cask of Amontillado," Fortunato is walled up in the catacombs of Montresor's estate.

The narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart," unlike Montresor, is unable to contain his guilt and emotions related to the murder. He is very quickly apprehended—as he almost immediately confesses to the murder in a fit of madness as police search his house. Montresor is more cool and thoughtful with his murder. He, conversely, successfully gets away with the murder and only admits to the killing of Fortunato on his death bed, decades after he committed the murder.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the differences and similarities between Edgar Allan Poe's short stories "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado"?

The two stories are alike in that they are both first-person narratives of murders that seem cruel, irrational, and unwarranted.

They are different in that Montresor, the narrator of "The Cask of Amontillado" has carefully planned and premeditated his murder, thinking through all the difficulties ahead of time. He is much more cold-blooded and rational in his plan than the narrator of "The Tell-tale Heart." Montresor has no compulsion, as his counterpart does, to insist he is sane.

The narrator of "The Tell-tale Heart" murders his victim much more spontaneously in response to what he thinks of as his victim's evil eye and loudly pounding heart. He has not thought through in advance how to deal with the body, and so hastily buries it under the floorboards. His own sense of guilt betrays him to the authorities. He is much more impulsive and emotional about his crime than Montresor, and this is his undoing.

Montresor is apparently confessing his murder fifty years after the fact, on his deathbed. He has successfully kept his killing a secret for all these years, showing that his premeditated plan was a success. Montresor is much more cold-blooded and ruthless than his counterpart, but seemingly no more justified in what he has done.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the differences and similarities between Edgar Allan Poe's short stories "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Similarities:

Both of Poe's short stories "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado" involve murder, crime, and mystery. Both narrators describe their crimes in detail and offer vague explanations as to why they chose to kill their victims. Both stories are told by the murderers in the form of confessional tales. Both victims personally know their attackers and are defenseless in both stories. Both murderers manipulate their victims by acting amicably towards them before killing them. Both stories have dark, Gothic elements that create a sinister, foreboding atmosphere.

Differences:

The unreliable narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" confesses to his crime and is arrested by the police while the narrator of "The Cask of Amontillado" remains unpunished and has not told a soul in over fifty years. Montresor is motivated by revenge to kill Fortunato while the unreliable narrator simply has a hatred towards the old man's Evil Eye. The murder in "The Tell-Tale Heart" takes place in the old man's bedroom, while the murder in "The Cask of Amontillado" takes place in Montresor's catacombs. The old man is suffocated and chopped into pieces, while Fortunato decays after he is buried alive in Montresor's vaults. The narrator and his victim are unnamed in "The Tell-Tale Heart" while the characters' identities are revealed in "The Cask of Amontillado."

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the differences and similarities between Edgar Allan Poe's short stories "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado"?

It's fun and easy to compare these two classic American horror short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado.

SIMILARITIES

  • A mentally unstable narrator and protagonist
  • Protagonists who narrate to an unknown character (or directly to the reader)
  • Brutal murders in the final conclusion
  • Settings at night and in the dark
  • Gothic settings
  • Underground locations
  • Unspecified reasons for the murders
  • Murder victims with deformity or weakness
  • Protagonist exhibits love and kindness in days before murder
  • Only two primary characters--protagonist and antagonist

DIFFERENCES

  • One protagonist/murderer with a guilty conscience (TT-TH) and one with a clear conscience (TCOA).
  • One murderer is caught (TT-TH) and one is not (TCOA).
  • One victim is old and defenseless (TT-TH) and the other is relatively youthfu (TCOA).
  • One murderer mutilates the body (TT-TH) and the other leaves his victim to die on his own (TCOA).
  • One murderer is "nervous--very, very dreadfully nervous (TT-TH) while the other remains calm throughout.(TCOA). 
Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare and contrast "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe.

Being written by the same author, "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" share a few similarities. The narrators of both stories begin their tales by claiming they are not mad. The two narrators also experience guilt over committing cruel acts: "The Tell-Tale Heart" narrator kills an old man, and "The Black Cat" narrator abuses his cat Pluto and murders his wife. Both men hide the bodies of their murder victims within the house. Both men are eventually found out by the authorities, though ironically due to their own actions ("The Tell-Tale Heart" narrator confesses his crime during a guilt-induced breakdown, while "The Black Cat" narrator taps the wall where his wife is interred and a shriek issues forth from the other side).

Despite these similarities, the two stories have differences as well. The narrator of "The Black Cat" is an alcoholic, and this appears to be the root of his violent behavior. In contrast, the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" is never given a proper reason for his madness, which makes his behavior more mysterious and unpredictable. "The Tell-Tale Heart" has the narrator's guilt become his sole undoing, while "The Black Cat" suggests Pluto's vengeful spirit may have reincarnated in the body of the second black cat and contributed to the narrator's ultimate fate.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the similarities between "The Tell -Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe?

Both "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" are early examples of what has come to be known as "perfect-crime" stories. In these stories the murderer thinks he has planned his murder perfectly and cannot be arrested or convicted. But in each perfect-crime story the murderer is exposed because he has overlooked one detail. The theme of such stories is always: "There is no such thing as a perfect crime" or "Murder will out." In the very popular television series Columbo starring Peter Falk, the shows were almost always perfect-crime stories. The murderer was usually a very intelligent, sophisticated man or woman who thought he or she had everybody fooled, including Detective Columbo. But the flakey detective usually trapped the perpetrator by turning up the one little incriminating clue his suspect had overlooked. An excellent example of a perfect-crime movie directed by the famous Alfred Hitchcock is Dial M for Murder, a 1954 film frequently shown on television. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the similarities between "The Tell -Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe?

 Edgar Allan Poe wrote grotesque, macabre stories with a unique approach to each one.  ‘The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” have several similarities.

Subject of the story

The kind of evil that Poe writes about is not about monsters, fantastic heroes or even the supernatural.  The stories are about ordinary, seemingly, real life situations. The readers of the story can find aspects of the situations in which they may find a shred of themselves in the characters. 

Settings

The similarities in many of Poe’s stories begin with the setting. For most of “The Black Cat,” the setting is the narrator’s house(s).  In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator lives in the old man’s home which becomes filled with violence, death, anguish, and isolation. The homes are places where mysterious things happen.

The Narrators

The narrators are nameless in each of the stories. Like the narrator in Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," the "cat" narrator also begins his story with the declaration that he is not "mad," and that his story is no "dream.”

 “The Black Cat”

Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not --and very surely do I not dream.

 “The Tell-Tale Heart”

True!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been, and am; but why will you say that I am mad?

Both stories have similar narrators who spend part of their time trying to convince the readers that the cat or the old man made them commit their heinous crimes.  Even more to the point, the men become obsessed by the victims: the old man’s eye and the first black cat. Both of the main characters commit their crimes against innocent, unsuspecting victims.

The Resolutions

The outcomes of both of the stories are essentially the same: The men are so sure that they have committed the perfect crimes that they encourage the police to go to the cellar in the “Cat” and to sit in the spot where the old man is buried in the “heart.”  Overconfidence catches both of the men and the police find the wife’s body along with the wild cat, and then the old man’s body that has been cut apart.

The Policemen

Like the policeman in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the cops in “The Black Cat” are generic characters, without defining characteristics, other than the fact that they are policeman. The policemen in both of the stories drive the action by showing up and investigating.

The men of both stories are probably languishing away in their various cells. The reader knows for sure that the “cat” narrator is there because he will be hanged the next day.  The end of the “heart” story is not so clear.  More than likely, he is sitting in his padded cell awaiting his next visit to the psychiatrist.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the one similarity between "The Black Cat" and the "Tell Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe?

There are several similarities between “The Black Cat” and “The Tell Tale Heart” by Poe.   A couple of the main similarities are:

  • Both stories are narrated by an insane character.  There is something not quite right with both of the narrators in the stories.  They are obsessed with unusual things—the black cat and the old man’s eye.  Their obsessive behaviors cause them distress and anxiety to the point of doing, seeing, and hearing unbelievable things.
  • Both stories have violent narrators.  The insane narrators revert to violence to settle their obsessions.  In “The Black Cat,” the narrator gouges out the cat’s eye and later hangs the cat.  He also beats his wife in his insane state.  The narrator in “The Tell Tale Heart” sneaks into the old man’s bedroom each night by cracking open the bedroom door and shining a ray of light onto the old man’s ghastly eye.  He later kills the old man and buries his heart under the floor boards of his living room. 
  • In both stories, there is an “eye” that seems to be the cause of the narrators’ anxiety.  Poe often uses eyes as a recurring motif.  Eyes are “the windows to the soul” and in both stories, the narrators feel that they are being scrutinized or judged by eyes in the respective stories. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on