The Black Cat Analytical Essay
The Black Cat, written by Edgar Allen Poe is considered Gothic literature because it reflects the elements of a Gothic story, in the setting, theme, characters, and plot. Filled with mystery, death, and the possibility of the supernatural, this short story is a work of Gothic literature. Gothic literature usually contains a villain, who is the epitome of evil, either by his own fall from grace, or by some implicit malevolence. In The Black Cat, this villain is the narrator who some may argue that he did indeed fall from his own grace by choosing to abuse alcohol. Others believe that the narrator commits his heinous crimes solely because under the influence of his black cat, Pluto, as he too implies during his tale. The main character undergoes a dramatic change of character until the point at which he becomes a murderer. The protagonist is usually isolated either voluntarily or involuntarily in a Gothic novel.
This is also true in The Black Cat; the narrator isolates himself voluntarily by choosing to become an alcoholic and placing liquor upon a pedestal, rather than cherishing his wife and animals. His wife, although abused for many years, never deserts him and remains by his side until the day she is murdered. “The moodiness of my usual temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind; while, from the sudden, frequent, and ungovernable outbursts of a fury to which I now blindly abandoned myself, my uncomplaining wife, alas! was the most usual and the most patient of sufferers” (Poe 9). The second cat in the story similarly shows plenty of affection towards the narrator, practically becoming his shadow. Therefore, the narrator is not involuntarily isolated; he instead pushes his loved ones away from him.
In Gothic Literature, the plot usually mirrors the ruined world in its dealings with a protagonist's fall from grace as the protagonist succumbs to the temptation from the villain. Edgar Allen Poe presents the narrator as the protagonist and the villain in this short story. In the beginning of The Black Cat, the narrator was a kind, loving man who enjoys animals’ company, especially a black cat named Pluto. He also loved and cherished his very devoted wife. Alcohol played the role of his temptation and the narrator succumbs to it, becoming an uncontrollable drunk. His drinking not only affects him, but his wife and their animals as well. It is not until after the narrator gives into the alcohol that his domestic violence and animal cruelty commences. “I knew myself no longer (Poe 7). The setting of a Gothic story is the outward manifestation of the protagonist's internal emotional world. This is particularly shown when the story begins in his prison cell, representing his loneliness and confinement. He is isolated from the outside world because of his transgressions. Another part of the setting in Poe’s lurid tale is the cellar in which the narrator kills his beloved wife and conceals her body in the walls. The narrator feels like he is trapped, just as the body of his wife and the second cat are trapped in the walls. He cannot forget his wrongdoings that he placed upon Pluto; the cat’s phantasm haunts him and serves as a constant reminder of what he did. The narrator is imprisoned in his own guilt and drowning in his misery. In most Gothic literature, the protagonist struggles with a terrible, surreal person or force that becomes a metaphor for the protagonist's struggle with repressed emotions or thoughts. It is with Pluto whom the narrator struggles with, as if the cat is causing him to act out in these unusual, violent ways. The narrator believes that the cat is guilty, while he himself is not to blame. “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” (Poe 7). The narrator acknowledges that he has lost his conscience and is becoming truly wicked as the story progresses. The narrator is unable to control his irrational urges to drink and harm his wife and animals. The audience sees the narrator endure some severe psychological changes as the story progresses. The once sensitive, amorous young man becomes an abusive, malicious murderer who claims to be sane by blaming alcohol and a feline for his actions. Yet, the narrator is trying to convince the audience that he is not insane or mad, but that he is in his right mind. He seems to think that his offenses are rationalized because of alcohol along with the second cat that haunts him and leads the police officers to his wife’s body. The protagonist represses his emotions by lashing out in anger and violence because he is unhappy in his marriage. “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 10). 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 and inflicted eye will be a constant reminder of the narrator’s evil deed.
His house burning down represents what soon becomes his breaking point; his marriage also crumbled down along with their beautiful home. He now feels hopeless and only finds relief in further abusing his animals and wife. Another element of Gothic literature is that the protagonist is consistently weaker than the antagonist. This coincides with The Black Cat because the narrator is fearful of the second cat and he is afraid of the image that the cat’s white fur resembles. Although Pluto is nothing except a meager cat, the narrator seems to think it is much more and murders it in order to cure his fear. The source of the killing comes from the narrator’s weakness and terror and the cat’s persistence and strength. Although the awful deed is done, the narrator’s anxiety and guilt are far from over. He has to live with the fact that he knowingly committed these cruelties until his execution day. This is also common in Gothic literature; the protagonist is forced to deal with sadness and has relentless reminders of his past.
The Black Cat is a dark story filled with pain, sadness, and violence. It adequately displays the common elements of Gothic literature in the different, gloomy settings. It also replicates the characteristics of Gothic literature throughout the plot. The setting and theme of Gothic literature represent themselves in The Black Cat by reflecting the narrator’s suppressed emotions and thoughts back to the audience. Poe’s story includes the protagonist succumbing to the temptations of his world, in the narrator’s case this is alcohol and violence. Edgar Allen Poe’s short story is a powerful presentation of Gothic literature as he included many elements of a fine Gothic story.