Psychoanalyzing the Black Cat

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Tyler Bennett
Dr. Kyburz
ENGL-2600
November 26, 2012
Uncanny Cat
Edger Allen Poe’s short story The Black Cat’s plot consists of a rather horrifying narrative provided by the narrator, whom remains unnamed. The story begins as a simple re telling of events from the narrator’s life. This “self reflection” was brought on by the narrator’s imminent execution on the following day—the cause of his execution remains shrouded behind statements indicating the common place. The narrator comments on his childhood stating that “…I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions” (Poe 18). It was this that caused the narrator to prefer the company of animals to that of his fellow human beings—a trait of witch his parents “indulged” him in with a “great variety of pets” (Poe 18). The rest of the story re accounts his adult life, along with his descent into alcoholism and the changes it made in his life—the murder of his beloved cat, and later his wife.

Taking a closer look at The Black Cat trough a Psychoanalytic lens one will find a strong support for Sigmund Freud’s theory of the Uncanny, and it’s involvement with repression. These examples show how the narrator and the cat itself have been imbued with these characteristics of the uncanny by Poe’s pen. First off one should understand the concept of the uncanny. Although the theory was originally identified by Ernst Jentsch, Dr. Sigmund Freud’s addition to the theory is crucial to our understanding of the uncanny today. Freud took Jentsch’s vague theory of the uncanny and further developed it. Freud theorizes that the uncanny is an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange or uncomfortably familiar (Freud?). Due to the fact that the uncanny is familiar, yet strange, it often will provoke a feeling of uneasiness that stems from the paradoxical feeling of being attracted to, yet repulsed by a singular object at the same time. The uncanny has many ways it can present itself, for example even when the possibility of an injury to a tender part of the body is presented (such as the eye) one experiences a feeling of the uncanny. Freud theorizes, “We know from psychoanalytic experience, however, that this fear of damaging or losing one’s eyes is a terrible fear of childhood. Many adults still retain their apprehensiveness in this respect, and no bodily injury is so much dreaded by them as an injury to the eye” (Freud 7). Within the Black Cat there is a close connection to this theory of fear of the loss of an eye or even the prospect of castration. The narrator of The Black Cat in turn subconsciously believes himself to have been “castrated” in life. In his fit of rage toward his beloved cat he cuts out one of its eyes, effectively “castrating” the cat as well—“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” (Poe 18)! Freud theorizes that, “[a] study of dreams, phantasies and myths has taught us that a morbid anxiety connected with the eyes and with going blind is often enough a substitute for the dread of castration” (Freud 7). Just as Oedipus blinded himself in a symbolic castration, the narrator has done so upon the cat. Throughout the narrator’s life he experienced a form of symbolic castration, first in the tormenting from his childhood peers, and later with his marriage of necessity to a woman. It is this subconscious feeling coupled with his drunken rage brought on from the frightened cat’s retaliation that caused him to “castrate” the cat as he perceives himself to be. It is this possibly repressed feeling of castration that flows to the next topic of conversation. One may find oneself experiencing a feeling of the uncanny in an instance where one reasons there should not be. This is a...
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