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In The Black Cat, the narrator was aware that his thoughts and actions were transforming into a downward spiral. He was aware of his increased irritability, his disregard of the feelings of others and the unreasonable violent actions he carried out towards his wife. He was even aware that his favorite pet and playmate, Pluto, was falling victim to the ill-effects brought by alcoholism onto the narrator.
In this story, the narrator describes to the readers the effects of the “Fiend Intemperance”. It was due to the increased intake of alcohol that the narrator experienced a radical alteration-for the worse. He became more irritable, cared little for the feelings of others and often used intemperate language with his wife, often including violent acts towards her as well. He maltreated the rabbits, the dogs, the monkey and even his favorite pet, Pluto.
The theme of man’s love for animals is communicated in the first few paragraphs of the story. The narrator described how he spent his time with animals, cherishing and loving them. He gave an account of the pets he had- birds, goldfish, rabbits, a fine dog, a monkey and a cat. Out of all the pets, the narrator loved his cat, Pluto, the most.
The theme of supernatural elements is clearly shown in this story. The title “The Black Cat” itself suggests supernatural elements, for there are various superstitions regarding the bad luck and omen that a black cat brings. In this story, the narrator kills his pet, Pluto, a black cat, by hanging him from a tree branch. After the murder of the black cat, bad luck follows the narrator. His house gets burnt, and only one wall remains standing, and this wall has an impression of the black cat with a rope about the animal’s neck was made onto it. A few days later, another black cat appeared in front of the narrator. This cat looked exactly like Pluto, except it had a patch of white fur at the bosom, which later represented the ‘gallows’. In the end, the narrator killed his wife and hid her in the cellar. When the police came to search his house, a loud noise came from the cellar. The cellar walls fell and the wife’s dead body was revealed, and sitting on her head, the black cat. The events that followed the hanging of Pluto can be attributed to supernatural explanations, for it is a common belief that a black cat brings bad luck. Thus, it portrays the theme of supernatural belief.
The story has many themes, most of them relating to human psychology and several in the form of contraries: reason versus the irrational; human being versus animal; self-knowledge versus self-deception; sanity versus madness; love versus hate; good versus evil; the power of obsession and guilt; and the sources or motives of crime. As in many of his works, Poe is interested in the borderline between opposites and how it may be crossed.
Despite the narrator’s explicit claim of sanity in the story’s first paragraph, he immediately shows himself self-deceived by terming his story “a series of mere household events.” Further, by the end of the first paragraph the narrator has circled to a contradictory position by expressing his hope for a calmer, more logical, and “less excitable” mind than his own to make sense of the narrative. A favorite adjective of his for pets, “sagacious,” which he uses early in the story for both dogs and his cat Pluto, thus ironically indicates the wisdom he himself needs both to see life clearly and not to give in to the irrationality of drinking or violent behavior. What should distinguish man from beast—this is, the faculty of reason—the narrator too frequently abandons, a weakness expressed in the animal metaphor of his “rabid desire to say something easily” to the police searchers.
His early reference to admiring the “unselfish and self-sacrificing love” of animals reveals the narrator’s blindness; ironically, his scornful words, “the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man” (author’s italics), apply to himself. The narrator later reveals that his dipsomania is self-indulgent and self-loving because he “grew . . . regardless of the feelings of others” and dimly perceived that he had lost the “humanity of feeling” (compassion) that his wife retained.
Sheer emphasis or proportion in the story—the great number of words he spends on the cats contrasted with the brevity of his remarks about the maltreatment and murder of his wife—indicates the deficiency in both the narrator’s insight and his feelings. He cannot see that guilt causes him to forestall mentioning his greatest misdeed until the story’s end, while his feeling for his wife was too weak to prevent his murdering her. The narrator cannot see that his killing her is not a mere deflection from his murderous purpose, but its true aim, whose motives are laid down in the sixth, sixteenth, eighteenth, and twenty-second paragraphs of the story. Mutely representing goodness, she has been a constant irritant to him, one on whom he can vent all of his pent-up feelings in one blow.