Critical Analysis of "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe

The short story entitled, “The Black Cat”, written by Edgar Allen Poe is a dark and twisted tale of a man who commits an evil deed early in his life that he is never able to forget or forgive himself for. There are many supernatural elements in this story, such as references to apparitions, God, and inescapable acts. It is the latter that is the theme of the story and the strongest reference to unmentioned, unseen forces. This unmentioned force is a strongly believed Buddhist belief, called Karma. Belief in Karma implies that a person who commits good, just acts will be rewarded with better life conditions in their next incarnation. Unjust acts lead to worse conditions in their next life. This story deals with a modified version of that belief, and that is that horrid, unjust acts, like those committed by the narrator of the tale, cannot go unpunished forever.

In his early years, the narrator seems like any other man. He falls in love, marries that special girl, and they decide to get a few pets. Some of these pets appear to be quite unusual, but they seem happy and therefore to each his own. They end up with birds, goldfish, a dog, rabbits, and a black cat. This black cat proves to be the man’s faithful companion in his youth, and he and the cat quickly become very attached to one another.

However, as this man sunk into the depths of alcoholism, he quickly became intolerant with everything around him, everything including his wife, and his faithful companion, Pluto, which was the cat’s name. He constantly maltreated each of the animals, all except Pluto, whom he left alone because of their early friendship. However, Pluto could not understand that his master had changed and continued to try to stay close to the man, further and further aggravating the man, and eventually driving the man to a fit of madness that caused him to drive his pen into Pluto’s eye, effectively removing the eye from the socket. The cat obviously avoided the man from then on, but the man was so aggravated that he hung Pluto in a near by garden. The man’s house was then burnt to the ground, and because of the actions of one of his neighbor’s, Pluto’s dead body ended up saving the man’s life during the fire. Afterward, the man finds another cat, almost the same as Pluto, missing eye and all, with one distinguishable difference; this new cat was not all black. This cat’s presence drives the man to another fit of rage, during which buries an axe deep in the brain of his spouse, because she tries to stop him from burying the axe in the cat. The man is then arrested and convicted of the murder of his wife, and is in jail while retelling his tale.

The moral of this tale is that a person’s acts will eventually catch up to him. In this story, he tries to kill the second cat because of its relation to the first. He was ashamed of what he did to Pluto, and he was moved to another fit of rage by this new cat because of the things it forced him to think about. This new cat was like his conscience trying to speak through his madness. It forced him to think about things that he would rather just forget, just as one’s conscience would force someone to think not only of their actions, but who their actions are hurting, what the fruits of their actions are or might be, or even how any given action would either help or hinder any given situation. Many people believe that this is how one’s action’s ‘catch up’ with that person. There may or may not be a divine force at work, but the conscience of a person forces one to remember all deeds committed by them, not just the deeds that person wishes to recall.

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14 July 2014. Author: Criticism