Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart.” ‘The Black Cat’ written by author Edgar Allan Poe and was published on August 19th 1843. Along with many other short stories, Poe writes of a character who loses their sanity as they becomes more and more overwhelmed. ‘The Black Cat’ follows a mans internal change from ‘good’ to ‘evil’. As his innately compassionate persona is challenged by his malevolent undertones. Poe uses foreshadowing, contrasting qualities and being controlled by emotions than logic to demonstrate gothic elements throughout the text.

I believe that Poe’s intentions for ‘The Black Cat’ was to show the dual side of human nature, The divide between good and evil. The narrator begins the text claiming that he is submissive and compassionate towards animals and other people. But then as the story progressed the narrators insanity grows, and he starts to act on his rage as he starts abusing his pets. When paranoia surrounding the narrators ‘black cat’ grew insurmountable, he kills wife in rage as she was the force between him and the cat.

In the first stanza of the story the narrator claims that “from infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions.” He says all of this to convince the reader that he is morally a good person. This trait was identifiable through the use of words have a shared connotative meaning meaning of being well behaved, compassionate and kind. His kindness is restated when he states how he has a tender heart admirable by his peers. This is all contradicted by the narrators actions that took place later in the text. “But this blow was arrested by the hand of my wife. Goaded by the interference into a rage more than demonically, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain.” As anger fuelled the narrator into a murderous rage he became a killer. Someone who was described to be compassionate but became the near opposite. When the narrators anger began to overwhelm him, his wife had tried to calm him and stopped him from harming the cat who he’d not too long ago loved. But this provoked the narrators anger even more as he described the rage as ‘demoniacal’ which has the connotation of someone who has been possessed by a supernatural being that causes them to act out of character. Which in the narrators situation would explain his sporadic and erratic behaviour. This shows the dualistic contrast between the two qualities of the narrator.

The opening line of the story begins with the narrator saying “For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about the pen… In their consequences , these events have terrified – have tortured – have destroyed me.” Which foreshadows that the story will take an unpredictable turn, that will cause the reader much concern. The narrator describes the story he is about to tell is ‘homely’ which shows that he finds comfort in it. Which causes an unease in the reader to build as it’s just odd that someone is able to feel at home in a story that will later depict murder. The first action that the narrator did which caused be to feel disgusted and morally horrified was when he tells how “I took from my waist coat pocket a penknife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes out of the socket.” This scene shows the abilities that the narrator has to harm the things that he cares about in a gruesome and spontaneous way. This foreshadows further violence that will occur later in the text.

The final gothic element that Poe demonstrated throughout the text was how the narrator was controlled by his emotions rather than by logic or reason. The narrator states that “I had so much of my old heart left, as to be first grieved by the evident dislike on the part of a creature which had once so loved me. But this feeling soon gave place to irritation.” He knew that he loved the black cat known as Pluto, named after Pluto the Roman god of the underworld. He also knew that the cat loved him. There was no reason for the narrator to want to kill or even harm Pluto. But yet he still did. It wasn’t logical for despair to grow insurmountable towards the cat. But it still did. Thus causing the internal in the narrator to becoming consuming as he is aware that the beliefs he holds have no ground to stand on. The more affection that the cat showed towards the narrator the more fury accumulated. “I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others… my pets, of course… I not only neglected but ill used them… by accident, or through affection, they came in my way.” Once again the narrator is very distinctively abusing his pets. For no distinguishable reason. His overly emotive state, caused him to be easily choleric. He had no care for how his actions impacted others, which is why he was able to harm his pets/wife without a second thought. The final line of the quote slightly foreshadows how his wife will get in his way by stating how through affection his pets and others always get in his way. His wife tried to protect the cat, and her protective nature cost her her life. The narrators alcoholic tendencies assisted in his inability to think clearly, or morally correct. Perhaps if he was sober, then he wouldn’t have been so emotional and paranoid. Which may have caused him to be less violent.

The text ‘ The Black Cat’ illustrated many elements of gothic fiction. Especially contrasting qualities, foreshadowing and how a character can be controlled more by their emotions rather than by logic or reason. Poe was able to demonstrate in a series of ways about how human nature is divided into two parts. The ‘good’ and the ‘evil’. The narrator although once having a compassionate personality before alcohol began to consume his life. Once the substance had become a permanent resident in is blood stream so did the demons that filled his mind. The paranoia grew and so did the threat that the narrator believed the cat was. Dualism is a terrifying aspect of human nature as it is designed to be uncomfortable. To make a person see the two sides of their personality and how easily the ‘evil’ could be released. Which I believe was the idea that Poe was trying to convince us of.

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  1. Ruby,

    Nice exploration of the gothic elements in this text. Increase your own personal response- by using these elements, what impact/effect does the story have on you. What reactions/thoughts do you have about the text.

    Mrs. P

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