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Summary

The Black Cat The Black Cat Summary Page 1

  • The first thing the narrator tells us is that he doesn't "expect" us to believe the story he's about to write, or ask us to believe it (1).
  • He says he'd have to be crazy to think we'll believe him – he can hardly believe it himself.
  • Then he says he isn't crazy and isn't dreaming.
  • He is going to die the very next day, and has confess everything to set his story straight.
  • His purpose in writing the story is to give "the world" a the plain facts of "a series of mere household event" – read "stuff that happened around the house" (1).
  • The consequences of the things that have happened around this mans house have caused him intense fear, extreme discomfort, and have actually "destroyed" him (1).
  • But, he isn't going to go into the details of that.
  • Rather, he is going to present the facts, and hope that some reader can see that everything that happened, every thing that the narrator makes such a big deal about, is really "nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects" (1).
  • Even as a kid, the narrator was thought to have an attitude of "docility and humanity" (2).
  • His friends even made fun of him because he was too nice.
  • He loved animals, and his parents let him keep lots of pets, and he spent lots of time taking care of them.
  • The narrator's animal love stayed with him even as he grew from a boy, to a man, and he felt a particularly deep connection with his "faithful and sagacious dog" (2).
  • (Sagacious is another word for "clever" or "perceptive.")
  • While still a young man the narrator got married. He tells us that he and his wife didn't get along badly.
  • She noticed how much he loved animals and bought him lots of them, including – "a cat" (3).
  • This was a big cat – black, and gorgeous, and "sagacious" (4).
  • In fact, the cat was so smart and sensitive that the woman suggested, that, like the myth, the cat might be a witch, "in disguise" as a cat" (4).
  • Of course, the woman was just kidding around. The narrator only mentions this part because it's part of the story he's remembering.
  • So, the cat's name is Pluto, and the man loved him.
  • Pluto had to be kept from following the man out of the house.
  • This lovely relationship between man and cat continued for a few years.
  • But then – the man started drinking and suffered a personality change "for the worse," and of which he is much ashamed (6).
  • (The narrator doesn't say he started drinking – he says that his personality changed as a result of "the Fiend Intemperance." "Intemperance" means any excessive behavior or habits. In Poe's time, most often, excessive drinking.)
  • As the narrator drank more and more, he became a nastier character with each passing day.
  • He used "intemperate language" to his wife, and threatened to physically abuse her.
  • The pets were neglected and abused whenever the narrator was near them – except for Pluto the cat.
  • The "disease" of "Alcohol" got worse and worse (6).
  • Soon, even Pluto was made to feel the wrath.
  • The narrator came home one night, drunk, after partying in town.
  • He thought Pluto was trying to hide from him.
  • Furious, he grabbed Pluto, and Pluto bit him a little.
  • The narrator then turned into a complete angry demon.
  • Next, he takes out his "pen-knife" (a knife originally used for sharpening quill pens) (7).
  • Then he cuts one of the cat's eyes out with it.
  • The narrator feels extreme shame and horror to "pen" (or write) what he did to Pluto (7).
  • In the morning, when the narrator was sober again a little bad about what happened, but it wasn't that deep. He went right back to his drinking ways.
  • The cat (you'll be glad to know) got better.
  • Sure, his empty socket was nasty looking, but he didn't seem to be in "pain" (9).
  • For a while the man's feelings were hurt because Pluto didn't love him any more, but then Pluto started getting on his nerves.
  • The narrator was overcome with "the spirit of PERVERSENESS" (9).
  • Perverseness, the narrator says, is a natural part of human nature.
  • All people sometimes do things just because they know they aren't supposed to.
  • According to the narrator, human beings have a natural desire to break the law.
  • (If you are intrigued by the discussion of perverseness, you'll want to read Poe's famous essay "The Imp of the Perverse" .)
  • The narrator writes that this "spirit of perverseness" the impulse in the soul to hurt itself that made him finally "consummate" (i.e., complete) the damage done to Pluto.
  • One morning (instead of having coffee) the narrator hanged the cat from a tree, while crying.
  • Why was the narrator crying? 1) Pluto loved him. 2) Pluto did nothing to deserve being hanged. 3) Because it would be a sin for which he could never be forgiven.
  • That night, the narrator was woken from his sleep by people screaming about a fire.
  • Oh no! It's the narrator's house and his bed is aflame.
  • Somehow, the narrator, his wife, and one servant got out of the house alive.
  • (We don't know how many servants there were to start with, but we learn that the couple is left with one.)
  • Everything they owned (financially speaking) was lost.
  • The narrator surrendered to live, from then on, in "despair" (10).
  • The next day, the narrator goes back to his burned-down house.
  • Except for one, all the walls had caved in.
  • The only wall standing was the one the bed was pushed up against.
  • The narrator thinks it resisted the flames because it had been recently plastered.
  • Many people were standing near the wall when the narrator came on the scene.
  • They were checking it out with great interest and surprise.
  • As the narrator nears the wall, he realizes that there, raised slightly (in "bas relief") out of the plaster is the image of a cat, complete with rope around the neck (11).
  • First the narrator thought he was imagining things, but then he figured out the explanation.
  • He hanged the cat from the tree in his garden (and apparently hadn't bothered to remove the dead cat from the tree when he went to sleep).
  • When the fire started, all the people rushed into the garden.
  • One of these people must have taken the dead cat out of the tree.
  • That same person, so as to wake up the narrator, must have then thrown the cat through the narrator's window.
  • Somehow, the cat got stuck in the newly plastered wall.
  • A combination of the chemical "lime" in the plaster, the flames, and the "ammonia" coming off of the dead cat, created the cat-picture seen on the wall (12).
  • The image of the plastered cat stayed with the man for several months.
  • The man halfheartedly mourned Pluto, and even hoped he might find a replacement.
  • One night when the man was drunk in a "den of more than infamy," he noticed a black cat sitting on top of a "hogshead" (a big barrel) of either "Gin" or "Rum" (14).
  • (Note: If some one is infamous, they're famous for being evil. "More than infamy" suggests he's in a really seedy joint, all kinds of bad things could be happening.)
  • He'd been looking at said barrel awhile, and hadn't seen the cat.
  • It's almost as if it magically appeared.
  • He pets him a little and is surprised to discover that this cat looks just like Pluto. Except for the "splotch of white" on one side of the new cat's chest.
  • (Pluto was completely black.)
  • The cat seemed to enjoy being petted, and purred and stretched.
  • The narrator tried to buy him from the bar owner, who said the cat wasn't his to sell.
  • When the narrator headed home, the cat followed him.
  • The woman loved the cat right away.
  • But, the cat got on the man's nerves, and grossed him out.
  • He tried to steer clear of the cat, and was stopped from physically abusing him by "a certain sense of shame" and the memory of the other cat (17).
  • The narrator resisted doing violence to the cat for several weeks.
  • During that time he developed an "unutterable loathing" (unspeakable hatred) for the "odiferous" (extremely smelly) animal (17).
  • He started to hate the cat when he realized he was missing an eye, just like Pluto.
  • To his wife, this just made the cat more loveable.
  • As his hatred grew, the cat followed him around everywhere, and was constantly jumping up on him, looking for affection.
  • The cat also tried to trip him whenever he got up, and even clung with its claws to the man's clothes.
  • The narrator wanted to smash it but didn't, due to the reasons stated above, but also because he was completely terrified of "the beast" (19).
  • The narrator says that he's writing this confession from a "felon's cell" (20).
  • One thing he wants to confess is why he was so scared.
  • He's really ashamed of this, because "it was by one of the merest chimaeras it would be possible to conceive" (20).
  • ("Chimaera" here means an imaginary monster. The narrator refers to the smallest imaginable imaginary monster.)
  • The woman, you see, often pointed out to him the patch of white fur on the cat, the patch of white fur, which was the only way to tell that this cat was different from Pluto.
  • This white fur began to change, and eventually took on the shape of a specific object.
  • That specific object was "the GALLOWS! – oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime – Of Agony and of Death!" (20).
  • (Here's a picture of a medieval gallows. "Gallows" can mean any wooden structure used for a hanging, like the tree in the narrator's garden.)
  • The narrator knew he was in big trouble, and couldn't believe that a simple animal had gotten the better of a man made "in the image of the High God" (21).
  • After that, the man could never relax or sleep.
  • The cat stayed with him at all times, and if he fell asleep, he would wake up to find the cat sitting on his chest and breathing in his face.
  • (See "The Night Mare" in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" for more on this.)
  • Since the cat was so heavy, it was hard to move him when he got in that position.
  • Thus tormented, the man lost all goodness.
  • His only friends were his bad thoughts.
  • He began to hate everyone and everything, including his wife, whom he beat, and whom, he says, didn't complain.
  • "One day" the man and the woman walked to the basement of the "old" house they had to live in now that they were poor (23).
  • The cat followed them down the stairs, driving the man crazy.
  • So he picked up an axe and tried to axe the cat.
  • But, his wife held back his arm.
  • This made him mad, so he "buried the axe in her brain" (24).
  • Now the man needed to hide the body.
  • If he had tried to move it, the neighbors might see.
  • He considered different ways of hiding his wife's body (read Paragraph 24 of the story for the gruesome details), but finally decided to "wall it [his wife's body] up in the cellar" (24).
  • The cellar was good for walling people up in.
  • The walls were recently plastered, and the plaster was still damp. It also had a fireplace that had been bricked over (leaving a space behind it).
  • The narrator decided to remove the bricks, put the body in the fireplace, put the bricks back, and then plaster the whole mess over.
  • Nobody would notice a thing.
  • Next, the man needed to find the cat, and take care of him as well.
  • Well, the cat must have gotten scared and run away, clever thing.
  • This sudden absence of the cat gave him great relief.
  • The cat didn't come back that night, and the man slept soundly, even with "the burden of murder upon [his soul]" (27).
  • Another day went by, and then another, and still no cat. The man felt free, and incredibly happy.
  • He wasn't worried about the fact that he murdered his wife.
  • The narrator says there were some questions (presumably about her disappearance), and a "search" that yielded nothing (28).
  • (The narrator doesn't say who reported her missing – he might have done it, or someone who missed her.)
  • He felt like he'll get to be happy now.
  • Three days after the day of the murder, all of a sudden, a bunch of police show up at the narrator's house.
  • Not worried, he let them search.
  • They went down to the cellar several times, and the narrator still kept the old cool.
  • He even walked around down there, with his arms crossed.
  • Soon "[t]he police were thoroughly satisfied" and were about to leave the scene (29).
  • The man couldn't help it, he just had to start talking, wanting to more fully convince them that he didn't kill his wife and hide her body in the cellar.
  • He told the policeman how well built the house was, and to demonstrate, hit his cane against the bricked and plastered fireplace.
  • As soon as the cane hit the wall, a crying sound, that turned into a "scream," that turned into an "inhuman" "howl" part "horror" and part victory (31).
  • The narrator felt faint.
  • For a moment, the police stood there on the stairs, but then ran to the bricked-over fireplace and began tearing out the bricks until the wall was gone.
  • The dead body was standing up, rotting and bloody.
  • On top of the body's head, "with red extended mouth and eyes of fire" was (you guessed it) the cat (32).
  • He "had walled the monster up within the tomb!" (32).

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