Edgar Allan Poe's horror classic "The Black Cat" offers a sinister portrait of the home. Things seem alright in the beginning. A young couple, animal lovers both, get married and fill their home with "birds, gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat" (3). But something, or several somethings, go terribly wrong. The home becomes a scene of domestic abuse and murder. The nameless narrator details the long, slow, brutal destruction of his home life, at his own hands. His story is a gruesome confession, written from his new home, a prison cell. By tapping into our deepest fears and anxieties about home and family "The Black Cat" never fails to chill us to the very marrow of our bones.
By portraying marriage and domestic life so negatively, "The Black Cat" provokes discussions of alternatives to such arrangements.
"The Black Cat" exploits and trivializes issues of domestic violence.
The material poverty of the second home in "The Black Cat" mirrors the poverty of the couple's marriage.
In "The Black Cat" the unnamed narrator offers us a parade of violent acts. Eye gouging, hanging, axing – these are the gruesome highlights. Until the end of the story, when somebody is killed, the detailed accounts of violence are focused on Pluto, the black cat who moves from pampered pet to persecuted beast. The violence the unnamed narrator practices against his wife and the other pets is rather vague. Yet, we get a pretty clear picture of what is happening. And by the end of the story the narrator has completely destroyed his family, and perhaps, completely destroyed himself in the process. In this horror classic, violence is an insidious beast that creeps, spreads, and grows uncontrollably, destroying all the bodies and minds it touches.
Even though the man's says he loved his wife, he becomes violent because he isn't happy in his married life.
By focusing attention on helpless pets "The Black Cat" is an example of how art and activism can work hand in hand.
In some stories (think stories by Ernest Hemingway) drinking has both positive and negative effects on the drinkers. Not so in "The Black Cat." The unnamed narrator of this grim tale claims he began abusing his wife and pets when his drinking got out of control, wrecking his personality. Some readers think this is a "temperance" narrative, a popular genre in Poe's day. "Temperance" in this context means "sobriety." The Temperance Movement focused on educating the public on the perceived dangers of drinking, and pushing legislature prohibiting the manufacture, use, and sale of alcohol. In a temperance narrative alcohol is the major issue, and is to blame for all the bad things that happen in the story. Here, alcohol fades out of the story just when things get bad, suggesting that alcohol is only one of many factors in the narrator's moral breakdown.
"The Black Cat" parodies traditional temperance narratives that hold alcohol up as the only cause of the characters' problems, while at the same time seriously questioning issues of alcohol abuse.
The narrator uses alcohol as an excuse for his bad behavior.
"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.
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.
Since the unnamed narrator of "The Black Cat" is writing from his prison cell, we can be sure that justice and judgment are on his mind. In the 1830s, when Poe was writing, the wheels of legal justice couldn't begin to turn until our narrator went too far and killed his wife. At the time, it wasn't illegal to abuse one's wife or animals. The story questions ideas of judgment and justice, and reflects the fraught and turbulent state of the US justice system in a time when rights for women, African Americans, animals, children, the mentally ill, and convicted murderers were hotly contested issues. Since domestic abuse happens every day, in spite of the law, "The Black Cat" still finds a receptive audience, over 160 years after it first appeared on the literary scene.
By making the narrator so unsympathetic that we can't feel sorry for him, "The Black Cat" makes an argument for the death penalty.
"The Black Cat" presents a complex argument against the death penalty, as will be demonstrated by examining the passages where hanging is discussed, and by drawing on arguments from the death penalty debate in Poe's time.
Disturbing physical and psychological transformations – often for the worst – are characteristic of most horror and Gothic tales. In "The Black Cat" some form of transformation occurs in nearly every paragraph. For the narrator, these changes are psychological. After he gets married, his personality spirals deeper and deeper toward the dark side, cruelly abusing his pets and his wife. His initially happy home life is turned upside down, and everyone involved is adversely affected and changed for the worse. Like many horror stories, "The Black Cat" also offers the possibility of supernatural change, though this might just be a figment of his imagination, or an excuse to deflect blame from his crime. With all these levels of transformation, will Edgar Allan Poe's classic tale of woe change you too?
The woman's transformation from passive victim to defender of the meek is marked by her defense of the black cat.
By omitting the details of the woman's physical transformation as a result of the man's abuse, this story risks misleading some readers about the nature of domestic violence.