The Black Cat Analysis: Is it Evil?

Madness and impending doom both seem to merge together into the narrator of “The Black Cat”, as he tries to grasp what is left of his sanity after committing the murder of his cat and of his wife. The short story itself is therefore a digression of unbiblical and inhuman rage, as Poe writes with such fervour and power that the very definition of evil is questioned, suggesting that the narrator, due to his insanity, cannot be categorised under its reaching boundaries, as in both circumstances the narrator is clearly not in possession of his senses; Poe seems to be implying that there should be a distinct dividing line between both evil and lunacy; someone whose mind runs differently to our own cannot fit under our definition of evil.

The first signals of the narrator’s wavering mind is seen briefly at the beginning of the story, as he introduces the reader personally. This serves for the reader to observe his diseased mind, and to form a connection with the narrator as they begin to get some indication of his madness. The opening paragraph seems to form part of the narrator’s confession: the narrator is unburdening his soul, releasing his troubles and revealing how they led to his breakdown. even if his “very senses reject their own evidence”, as he is drawn into the mists of imagination; he is plainly insane at this moment. Furthermore, the narrator stresses that  the occurences were “mere household events”; however they have still haunted him. Following this thread, the reader would discover that the narrator had plainly made a harrowing connotation out of the fire after he had killed his cat, and when the burn marks on the walls resembled that of a cat’s.

Another piece of the puzzle becomes evident when Poe implies that the narrator’s own madness had stemmed from his sudden alcoholism habit. The narrator is firstly seen as a happy and carefree man, “tender of heart”, and who was fond of animals, a feeling shared by his wife. However, this fleeting moment of happiness was soon overturned as soon as the narrator mentions the beginning of his alcoholism: through “the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance”, the narrator was seen to be morose, irritable and violent towards his wife and his pets when under the influence of drink. This led to a perverted sense of reality, of which led to his assault on Pluto, his beloved cat, when he cut out one of its eyes. From the reactions afterwards, it is clear that the narrator fully remonstrates this act, and names it an “damnable atrocity”, an random act of violence that was spurred not necessarily by the narrator’s own cold-bloodiness, but by his moment of relapse from alcohol.

The narrator’s descent into madness, not evil,  continues to a greater extent after assaulting Pluto: The narrator describes the overwhelming guilt he felt, and his sadness as he watches his life quickly disintegrates, soon inevitably showing a desirable feeling to kill the cat altogether, out of “perverseness”, likely spurred on by his unwillingness to bury his grief. The consequences of the action made his attitudes to the new cat more sensible: the narrator believes that his own guilt had returned, in the form of the other cat, and would haunt him for all eternity. It is then not evil, but the narrator’s own plaguing remorse, that made him visualise the mark of a hangman’s noose on the back of the other cat (of which he cannot bring himself to digress), and which made his intenseness hatred towards the cat. The last act to unhinge the narrator, then, was his wife’s murder, when she attempted to protect the cat from her husband’s lunacy. Then, the narrator truly loses his grasp, and, using his flawed reasoning, attempts to conceal the body, not realising that he had also walled up the cat until it was much too late.

Throughout both murders, it should not suffice to state that the narrator’s motives were really brought about by evil: the narrator was first under the influence of alcohol, then afterwards the victim of his scalding guilt. Furthermore, it should be remembered that the narrator was a kind and a happy person, along with a wife whose “disposition was not uncongenial with (his) own”, and that he felt almost at peace after he disposed of the other cat. The other cat was itself a representation of his guilt, hence of his heightened lunacy.


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