Stories of Edgar Allan Poe The Black Cat
The narrator, declaring that he will die tomorrow, describes himself as a caring and loving man, who from the earliest days of his youth was mocked by others for his timidity and concern for all living things. He married a woman who shared this same good natured attitude for all living things, and she brings many animals into the house because they share this in common. These creatures included "birds, gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat." In regard to the cat, "Pluto -- this was the cat's name -- was my favorite pet and playmate. I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me through the streets. Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years" Poe, pg. 12. The man and his cat built a close bond that was nurtured for years, and the fact that not even his wife feeds the cat suggests this. As time went on, however, this changed and he became prey to certain wicked human emotions as "Intemperance" and "Perverseness," and these feelings of excess and cruelty began to consume him. The narrator then began to drink alcohol heavily and stay out during the nighttime, staggering home very late.
On one such occasion, the narrator notes that Pluto is trying to hide from him because he is in such a violent state of mind; as a result, the narrator grabs Pluto abruptly and, when the startled cat bites his hand, he stabs its eye with a penknife, blinding it. The next day after he awoke from his drunken slumber, tired and hung over, the man is horrified to recall what he has done, and this guilt only drives him to drink even further, in an attempt to erase these feelings. Later, he grew infatuated with being violent again towards the cat merely because it is forbidden, asking the reader "Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is the Law [sic], merely because we understand it to be such?" Poe, pg. 13. As a result, one morning he gleefully wrapped a rope around the poor cat's neck and dangled it from a tree, killing it. That night, however, a stroke of bad luck attacked the narrator as he awoke with his house ablaze, which he narrowly escaped with his wife before the entire property was burnt to the ground.
Only one small section of wall remained towards the center of the building which he had only recently covered in a fresh coat of plaster, where his bedroom had been, and it is here that onlookers discovered the large outline of what appeared to be a cat dangling from a noose scarred upon the wall. Frightened at first, the narrator finds a complicated explanation in his mind of how this could be, since in trying to grab his attention, a neighbor surely cut down the cat's dangling body outside, threw it through the window to grab his attention, and which then was embedded into the limestone wall and outlined as the building shifted and crumbled. As time went on, the narrator and his wife moved into a new house, but the man remains tormented by the guilt of what he has done. His drinking habits continued, and he spent his time searching the taverns and apartments where he would go for a new cat to replace Pluto, as if this would make everything right again. He finally did see a black cat laying upon a large barrel of rum or gin, and upon approaching it the cat began to purr affectionately. After the landlord told him that he didn't know who it belonged to, the narrator decides to take it home, noting its close resemblance to Pluto except for the white fur this cat had ran along his chest.
A short time passes before the man began to dislike this cat too, as he had done towards Pluto, especially since this cat has an eye missing just like Pluto, from when he had stabbed it with a knife. Reminded of this and restrained from hurting this cat because of his guilt at what happened to Pluto, the man's rage built up over time, increased when the cat would try to follow him around or get in his way underfoot. His wife pointed out what an interesting design that the cat's white fur bore underneath, and the man declares that the shape of the fur changed over time, "It was now the representation of an object that I shudder to name --and for this, above all, I loathed and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster had I dared--it was now, I say, the image of a hideous--of a ghastly thing--of the GALLOWS!--oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and Crime--of Agony and of Death!" Poe, pg. 17. The shape of a gallows upon the cat's breast caused the narrator to hate and fear it alike, reminded perhaps of when he himself had hung Pluto from a tree, and now it is a gallows again that is depicted upon the cat's fur. As the days passed again, the man became more cruel and violent, although his wife did not complain, being "the most patient of sufferers."
One day, the wife accompanied him into the basement to get something, and upon walking down the stairs, the man flew into a frenzy when the cat followed them. He raised an ax to kill it, but his wife's hand held him back from driving the ax down, so he smashed her with the ax instead, driving it into her skull. Rather than feeling guilt or horror, the man only ponders how to hide her body from detection, wondering if he should chop it up into little pieces and burn it, bury it, or just toss it into a deep well. Finally he decided to tear apart a hollow wall in the basement, which concealed an old non-working fireplace beneath, and to hide her body there and reseal it, "as the monks of the Middle Ages are recorded to have walled up their victims." This deed done, he plastered the wall so that it blended with everything else around, and then looked around for the cat so that he could kill it, too. However, the creature is no where to be found. Assuming it to be a miracle that the cat has at last left him alone, the man slept deeply and soundly without fear, because the cat was gone.
For two more nights he slept as such, but on the fourth day a group of policemen came in search of his missing wife. Inviting them into his home, the narrator was proud at what a clever job he has done at concealing his wife's body, going out of his way to show them around the basement, gloating that they don't know her dead body to be so nearby. In my final display of pride at his workmanship, the man knocked on that very wall behind which his wife was hidden, declaring how well-constructed the house was, just as the policemen are on their way up the stairs. Proceeding, he knocked again, louder, repeating the same statement. At this, a low howl escapes from behind the wall, and the policemen pause to turn around and begin immediately to tear the wall apart. When this task was completed, "The corpse, already greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators. Upon its head, 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. I had walled the monster up within the tomb" Poe, pg. 20. The man is thus set to die the next day because of this terrible murder, and the story he has related serves as a confessional of why the deed was done. Had he not trapped the cat within the wall as well, the police would not have known that the body was there. Once again, the black cat is blamed for all of his troubles.