Poe's "The Black Cat" as an Example of Gothic Story
Edgar Allan Poe, who lived a short and tragic life, was mainly known for his gothic stories embedded in the atmosphere of terror and suspense, with insane protagonists placed in gloomy settings. He is considered to be a horror-master and his literary output renders him a father of the detective story and one of the most prominent gothic story writers (Fisher 2004: 81). The Black Cat, first published in 1843 in The Saturday Evening Post (Sova 2007: 35), is one of many visible instances of Poe’s talent in writing gothic fiction. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, it is an excellent example of a gothic story due to its numerous features characteristic of this genre (Hayes 2004: 85).
Although gothic fiction is a genre which was born in England at the end of the 18th century, it was soon well-received in the United States, where it influenced a wide array of writers. It was primarily based on the European Romantic Movement but over the course of time, tragic and supernatural dimensions were added to these stories as the leading themes in America. The genre has a number of characteristics, one of which is the setting. Main protagonists are usually placed in an old, abandoned castle, with secret chambers and passages. The action of gothic stories take place in dark, spooky and dismal places. The plot is very often mysterious and some unexplainable events occur on regular basis. Gothic authors try to produce an atmosphere of suspense in their works by creating unpredictable characters, who struggle with madness, anger and acts of panic, in order to threaten the readers. The characters’ state of mind, their feelings and emotions, frequently take precedence over the plot. Ghosts and supernatural events are more than common in gothic texts and so are the tormenting visions and unlucky omens that often haunt the main characters. What is more, female characters who appear in such stories, for instance, are often put in distress, threatened and dominated by enraged males (Childs and Fowler 2006: 99-100). The Black Cat is a story narrated by an unnamed storyteller who at the very beginning, claims to be totally sane and rational and states that he is sentenced to death and will be killed the following day. Thus, he wants to reveal his dark secrets and make a confession to unburthen his soul (Badenhausen 1992: 487). From the start, the reader is made to perceive the narrator as an average man who loves his wife and is a great admirer of animals. The story, set in an ordinary house with nameless characters, changes over the course of the action into a thorough description of the narrator’s mental state and his acts of madness. Still, no further details on the lives of the main protagonists, including their profession or age, are provided as the story unfolds. The storyteller, due to his addiction to alcohol, becomes an abusive monster who ends up murdering his wife while attempting to kill the cat (Fisher 2004: 209). The narrator’s wife is a character whose love to animals, as opposed to her husband, is unconditional and unwavering. By following the gothic convention of literature, The Black Cat can be read as a story of the clash of masculinity and femininity (Fisher 2004: 86). One of features of the gothic fiction, as mentioned above, is presenting the female character in distress. Gothic writers very often try to present the relations between the tyrannical and impulsive male and a feeble and helpless female. The narrator in The Black Cat was, as a young boy, a very tender and delicate man (Stark 2004: 260). Nonetheless, his behavior over the course of time changed drastically. Heavy drinking alters his life as well as the lives of his nearest ones including his wife and pets. Still, no information on why the narrator hits the bottle is given in the text (ibid: 260-261). The shift in his behavior is very abrupt and unexpected. The plot progresses so quickly that it is hard to see...
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