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Themes

"The Black Cat," a claustrophobic tale of marital life gone wrong, offers a distinct movement from freedom to confinement. We meet the narrator already in his prison cell, writing, to free himself from his bonds – the literal bonds of the cell, and the bondage confining his mind and heart. How he became so trapped is the subject of his writing and the reason why he has taken the pen to the page. We learn how he traps his wife and pets in a cycle of violence and abuse. As things go from bad to worse, the physical spaces the characters inhabit shrink. While the man's story begins in a house of wealth and comfort (or so he implies) it ends in brick tomb in the cellar of a rundown building.

Questions About Freedom and Confinement

  1. Who is the most trapped character in the story? Why do you think so? What are some of the things that trap this character?
  2. Did the story make you feel claustrophobic? Would this reaction be significant?
  3. Why doesn't the woman free herself from the situation? Does the story provide enough information to answer the question? If so, pick a passage to demonstrate. If not, does this omission comment on the story as a whole?
  4. What are some reasons Pluto and the second cat stay in the home, even though they are abused?
  5. Is anyone free at the end of the story? How do we know he or she is free? If not, what does this tell us about the story's take on freedom.
  6. How do you define freedom? What makes you feel trapped? Does this story help you think about these things?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The narrator of "The Black Cat" feels trapped in his marriage and kills his wife to get out of it; an examination of his description of his sleep patterns support this point.

The story is an allegorical comment on how writers (like the narrator writing from his prison cell) are trapped by their own stories.

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