Study Guide

The Black Cat Quotes

  • The Home

    My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. (1)

    There is a certain amount of undeniable truth to this assertion. It's almost as if the narrator is telling the reader that this scenario could happen in anybody's house, at any time. Here we have one of many examples of the narrator deflecting responsibility for his actions. But he's also alerting the reader that his story might hit close to.

    I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my own. (3)

    This sounds promising, sort of. It suggest that either the narrator doesn't know the woman very well, or that he does but isn't that into her. Instead of saying "we get along really well," he says "we didn't get along too badly." (It pays to notice when something seemingly positive is phrased in the negative.)

    I suffered myself to use intemperate language to my wife. At length, I even offered her personal violence. (6)

    Before the narrator turned on the woman, he turned on the animals. Without excusing the man, is it possible that married life and pets proved too much for him? He say he "married early"(3). From what he tells us, he'd never had a relationship with a person before, except maybe his parents.

    The whole house was blazing. It was with great difficulty that my wife, a servant, and myself, made our escape from the conflagration. (10)

    Now we know they had servants. More importantly, we know that all the pets have died. After years of abuse, they finally escape their awful "home," tortured by the flames. This also marks the end of this horrible phase of the family's life. Now they can move on to an even worse one.

    When it reached the house it domesticated itself at once, and became immediately a great favourite with my wife. (16)

    It's a second black cat, unless you believe it's some supernatural extension of Pluto. We picked this quote because it has the word "domesticated" in it, which speaks directly to the theme of home. If someone or something is domesticated, they have become content living in the domestic sphere. Unlike the cat, the man can't seem to domesticate himself.

    One day she accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the cellar of the old building which our poverty compelled us to inhabit. (23)

    This is how we know the other house was probably fancy. After the hanging of Pluto everything goes down hill. We know that going to the cellar can't be good. Not in a story like this.

  • Violence

    I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others. (6)

    We might not want to hang out with him, but the man seems bluntly honest here. Have you ever felt the way the narrator describes himself in this passage? Come on, it's OK to admit it. In the case of the man, this "day by day" never seems to stop. It seems to apply month by month, and year by year by year, erupting constantly into violence.

    My pets, of course, were made to feel the change in my disposition. I not only neglected, but ill-used them. (6)

    This is a chilling moment. It's hard to get over. Something about "ill-used" is particularly disturbing, maybe because it leaves so much to the imagination. When the narrator blinds Pluto, we know exactly what went down. It's painful, but there is only so far our imaginations can take it.

    I took from my waistcoat pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! (7)

    What a coincidence. We were just talking about this. While the less detailed quote above might be scarier if we think about it for a while, we might miss it if we're reading fast. Not so with this moment. It's short, to the point, and not as open to misinterpretation.

    One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree […]. (9)

    When he wants to, this guy can be clear. The murder of Pluto is described in precise details. Is the murder weapon important here? Why or why not? Also, notice the phrase "cool blood." The violence up to now was done in fits of drunkenness, and irritation. Here the narrator was "cool." It's morning and this is just how he decides to start his day, or so he would have us believe. He doesn't stay cool for long. When he hangs the cat on the tree he can't stop crying his eyes out.

    Goaded, by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp, and buried the axe in her brain. (23)

    We don't need him to tell us about the pool of blood and the puddle of gore. We can imagine the whole scene. We also have some cause and effect going on. The man gets mad because his wife interferes with his plans to kill the cat.

    […] I was answered by a voice from within the tomb! -- by a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream […]. (31)

    The idea of the cat sobbing like a kid brings makes us feel all the suffering and trauma heaped upon his head. By comparing the cat to a sobbing child, Poe increases our sympathy for this horribly abused animal and draws our attention to animal rights.

  • Drugs and Alcohol

    […] through the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance [I] had (I blush to confess it) experienced a radical alteration for the worse. (6)

    So much for plain language, though readers in Poe's day would have been familiar with "the Fiend." This expression is a common way of representing addiction. The desire to drink takes on a life of it's own. It has "instrumentality."

    One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. (7)

    What's interesting to us here is the word "fancied," which is similar to "imagined." The narrator is being tricky here. We can't tell if Pluto actually avoided him, or if the narrator imagined it. This moment seems significant when we consider the extreme affection of the second cat toward the narrator. Why doesn't that cat avoid him?

    My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. (7)

    In plain language, the narrator's "soul" leaves his body (he doesn't say where it goes). "Malevolence" is the desire to do evil. In the passage above, the desire to drink is shown as a fiend. Here, malevolence is even worse than a fiend. If what left the man's body was his "original soul." This malevolence might be a new one.

    […] the soul remained untouched. I again plunged into excess, and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed. (8)

    Well, we know the reason the man's soul wasn't touched by guilt over the cutting out Pluto's eye. Because his soul is worse than a fiend, and drunk on gin. And now wine. Things don't look good.

    One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree -- hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart. (9)

    We bring this up here because it seems to be a moment when the man isn't drunk. He doesn't blame the murder of Pluto on the alcohol. Do you think this makes it more or less scary?

    One night as I sat, half-stupefied […] my attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing upon the head of one of the immense hogsheads of gin, or of rum […]. (14)

    Enter cat number two. Or reenter Pluto. You could make an argument for either interpretation of the second cat. "Stupefied" means drunk. Hogsheads are big barrels for holding alcohol. This is the last we hear of drinking in the story.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    The curtains of my bed were in flames. (10)

    The idea of a curtained bed reminds us of the narrator's current cell. Which is stronger, flames or bars? Could you do a symbolic reading of this moment?

    It was with great difficulty that my wife, a servant, and myself, made our escape from the conflagration. (10)

    The word "escape" would seem to speak to the "freedom" part of this theme. It seems, though, that there can be no escape for this tragic couple. When we move, we take most of our problems with us. If we move because our house is burned down and we've lost all our money, we move with even more problems than we had before.

    For months I could not rid myself of the phantasm of the cat (13).

    The "phantasm" or "ghostly figure" in question is the image of the hanged cat the man found on his bedroom wall after the fire. This image traps him.

    I had walled the monster up within the tomb! (32)

    Now that's an ultimate moment of confinement. It doesn't get much more confining that being shut up a wall with a dead person.

  • Justice and Judgment

    When reason returned with the morning – when I had slept off the fumes of the night's debauch – I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty (8).

    Unfortunately, this period of "reason" does not last. By the time night rolls around all that guilt and horror seems like a dream, and the cycle begins anew. This shows how our judgment isn't something stable or fixed. It moves and changes depending on the circumstances.

    It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself – to offer violence to its own nature – to do wrong for the wrong's sake only […] (9).

    Is the narrator bringing this up as part of his possible insanity defense, or is he onto something? Do people do things simply because they know they are wrong? Do people hurt themselves and others on purpose, for the sake of hurting them? How do we judge such people?

    […] it was now, I say, the image of a hideous -- of a ghastly thing -- of the GALLOWS! -- oh, mournful and terrible engine of horror and of crime -- of agony and death! (20)

    The narrator is, of course, referring to the shape of the white spot on the second cat's fur. As we learn in the last paragraph of the story, the gallows is also where he's headed, unless he gets a last minute pardon, or can prove he's insane. How you feel about the narrator's plight depends on how you feel about the death penalty.

    But this blow was arrested by the hand of my wife. (23)

    There is a sad and brutal justice at work here. The woman dies protecting an animal who can't protect itself. Surely her situation didn't escape notice from the neighbors. The man is even afraid to move her body because of them. Unfortunately, there was no law against what the man was doing.

    Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. (32)

    At the very end here, the man puts all the blame on the cat, and, in a roundabout way is arguing that the cat, not the man, belongs in the jail cell waiting for the gallows. Still, there is a sense of justice in this moment, if only because the cat is still alive.

  • Transformation

    I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others. (6)

    These are the beginning stages of the man's hideous psychological transformation. He connects it to alcohol (though perhaps there is more going on). When alcohol and/or drugs play a central role in a story, transformation is probably featured as well. The nature of the transformation depends on the story. Here the transformation is altogether negative.

    I knew myself no longer. (7)

    Most people experience this feeling at some point or another, especially when in the midst of changing. Here the narrator is stressing the degree of transformation, hoping we remember that he was a nice guy in high school.

    I took from my waistcoat pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! (7)

    This is a transformative moment for both Pluto and the narrator. The narrator crosses a previously uncrossed line of violence. His act is irrevocable. Pluto's physical transformation will be a constant reminder of crossing the line. Eye problems and eye violence are often featured in stories of transformation. They signal transformed vision in the characters, and hope to signal transformation in the reader.

    The destruction was complete. My entire worldly wealth was swallowed up, and I resigned myself thenceforward to despair. (9)

    While the man focuses on the transformation of his material circumstances, readers might focus on the transformation of the pets that were left to burn up in the fire. The transformation from alive to dead is often a prominent fixture of horror stories.

    The reader will remember that this mark, although large, had been originally very indefinite; but, by slow degrees -- degrees nearly imperceptible[…] it had, at length, resumed a rigorous distinctness of outline. (21)

    The mark, as you know, is an image of the gallows, both recalling the murder of Pluto, and foreshadowing the man's death sentence. It's interesting because it suggests a gradual transformation, and introduces the possibility of the supernatural. Along with the eye situation, want the reader to believe he was convinced that the cat has supernatural qualities. What do you think?