“ “The Black Cat” is one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most memorable stories. The tale centers around a black cat and the subsequent deterioration of a man. The story is often linked with “The Tell-Tale Heart” because of the profound psychological elements these two works share.” (Source: Goodreads)
Lately I suffered a horribly awful reading slump, so I coped by rearing shorter works of fiction. Edgar Allan Poe has long been one of the gods in my personal Parthenon for literature. My favorite story of his was, until I re-familiarized myself with “The Black Cat”, was its companion in similarities, “The Tell-Tale Heart.” In this case, I find the former of these two tales, that is “The Black Cat”, to serve a more instrumental purpose in the molding of young minds. Please be aware that the following review contains spoilers.
The narrator of “The Black Cat” tells readers a few facts about himself, namely the commonality between his wife and himself regarding their love of animals. Unfortunately, like many other souls, the narrator succumbs to alcoholism and thereafter his temper becomes horrific. Through this change, readers watch as the narrator undoes his entire livelihood under the influence of drink and a red fog of rage and guilt.
It is common knowledge that an alcoholic often behaves irrationally. Inciting a drunk individual’s temper is far easier to accomplish than not, and the first evidence of the narrator’s malignant state of inebriation in “The Black Cat” occurs shortly after he admits harming his wife in a drunken state that things turn grisly. Those of you that know me also know that I am fond of cats – specifically, I adore orange ones. While the narrator’s feline is black instead of orange, I truly found myself cringing when the narrator removed his cat’s eye. Any man or woman capable of harming a defenseless animal is one to be steered clear of, and the narrator as readers soon discover is an absolute fiend.
From there, the story simply escalates and, as expected, the narrator’s unfortunate wife quickly finds herself, through an unexpected turn of events for her poor soul, coming between her irate and drunk husband to protect their newest feline companion. This move on her part results in her death and the walling up of her body in the cellar. Unbeknownst to our narrator, he’s sealed the cat up in the wall with her and ultimately the cat undoes him.
Buried in the terrible events of this short story are several lessons meant to deter others from replicating the narrator’s behavior. First we encounter his habit of drinking in excess. Second, his ability to harm others and behave toxically to his most cherished love ones. Third, readers are reminded that nothing goes unpunished. Of course, the latter karmic outcome isn’t quite true in our less than ideal world, but the moral remains the same: if you kill someone, you’re bound to make a mistake or slip up wherein you will be caught.
Despite the briefness of this story, “The Black Cat” is full of important notes to the reader. Though it truly does, in many ways, echo the sentiment of “The Tell-Tale Heart”, I find “The Black Cat” to have far more depth and justice to it than the former. Re-reading this tale at my present age allowed me to see several things I did not catch in my younger years, this instilling once more in me my love of Poe’s work.