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The Black Cat Essay, Research Paper

In literature, irony is a tremendously important facet of fictional work. Irony involves a

contrast or discrepancy between one thing and another. The contrast may be between what is said

and what is meant or between what happens and what is meant to happen. In Edgar Allan Poe’s

The Black Cat, Poe demonstrates irony in the sense that loved ones can stretch human emotions

and actions beyond the limits of morality. The ironies in Edgar Allan Poe’s stories are

unexpectedly horrific. All his stories end up in a dreadful manner. Similar to any other of Poe’s

stories, The Black Cat is dark, tragic and surreal. The main character changes from a polite,

compassionate man into a psychopathic murderer. These ironic dimensions of The Black Cat

combined with the author’s sinister style of writing make for an exciting story with important

twists and possible answers of superstition.

In The Black Cat, no names are mentioned. This is probably because they are not essential

for the plot in the story, for only the events are important to the story’s purpose. The Black Cat is

an emotionless, and yet psychotic story. The plot’s main focus is a first person narrator who

describes his horrid actions as “a series of mere household events” , that in effect were, but the

outcomes of these “mere household events” were not in any way insignificant.

One day the main character came home drunk, and committed a dreadful deed. He had

taken the family cat and pulled one of its eye’s out. When he woke up and realized what he had

done he felt terrible. The cat avoided him for a period of time, but still went about the house as

usual. Even after feeling much remorse over taking his eye out, he somehow was not satisfied

enough so he murdered the cat by hanging it on a tree. However, the cat came back to life after a

fire burned his house down. It was the same cat but with one dissimilarity, a white line of hair

around it’s neck where the noose had been. Then for some strange reason within the matter of

days, the cat started to be faithful to it’s master and showed emotion towards him again. I depict it

as the cat forgiving his master for what he did. The irony in this sense is that a cat who was

brutally treated more than once still had the heart to forgive and forget, which is highly unlikely

for any animal in the world.

Poe takes his characters from one extreme to the other. For example, his narrator in The

Black Cat grew up a softhearted pansy, so much so that he was made fun of and mocked. Then in

his adulthood he drastically changed for the worse, to the point where he hated and was annoyed

by his most favored pet, Pluto and Pluto’s successor. Poe fills his character with the contrast and

irony of growing from a tender youth to an abusive alcoholic. With these extremes Poe creates a

character, out of the ordinary, which causes unpredictability and suspense.

Another distinguishing characteristic of Poe’s stories are the psychological aspects of them.

For example one of the most predominant traits of his works is that most people go crazy in their

strive for peace. The loving cat sickens Poe’s central character to the point that he eventually kills

it. Poe describes the protagonist’s mental health as the “fiend intemperance” and “the spirit of

perverseness” . Poe drives the protagonist even farther over the edge as he inserts another black

cat of the same appearance and with the same wounds that the protagonist had inflicted upon his

first cat. This cat was the straw that broke the camels back. It was even more caring and loving

than the previous and therefore the protagonist also goes back to his sinister methods. This time,

on the other hand, the protagonist kills his wife.

Poe’s use of the narrator’s actions in this manner is enthralling, yet subtle in the narrator’s

casual behavior. The narrator does not seem to be the slightest troubled by the apparent loss of

both his wife and his sanity. After the narrator’s identity is portrayed and the reader is held in

suspense, Poe leads you on with a drastic chain of events and inner thoughts of the narrator’s. He

builds the story upon his detailed description of the events that took place and leads the reader into

overdrive with astonishing actions. For example, plucking Pluto’s eyeball out with a penknife,

describing the narrators disease progressing so much as to inflict physical pain on his wife, and all

the way to the murder of his wife, which was meant for the second black cat.

Furthermore, irony is also demonstrated in that the main character is on a quest for personal

bliss and tranquility, but uses the most anarchical tactics in getting them. Who would have thought

that when the wife disobeyed her husband, she would have gotten her head cut off. Through these

murderous acts, Poe paints graphically enhanced descriptions of his principle character’s emotions.

This can be seen when the narrator states, “Evil thoughts became my sole intimates-the darkest and

most evil of thoughts” . With twists and turns such as these we cannot assume the next step and

become bored with the story.

Toward the end of the story our principle character tried to hide the body of his wife, this

action completed his transformation into a monster. He had lost all humanity, and his rage and hate

had consumed him. He is afraid of the second cat, and that fear is added to a state of mind already

confused and dangerous. He becomes excessively nervous and has difficulty controlling himself.

Once an idea or impulse comes to him he cannot prevent it from running its course. He cannot

resist the temptation to lead the police to the very spot in the wall behind where the body of his

wife is buried. His quixotic imagination cannot be controlled, and aware of the irony of the

situation, he cannot help tapping on the burial spot with his cane. He is now a character in total


Irony in The Black Cat is shown in many different perspectives. From the character

development, the suspense, and the unpredictability of the conclusion, Poe shows that irony in a

story allows for a deeper interpretation plus it allows the writers to compress a great deal of

meaning into a small space. With the many different ways of looking at The Black Cat there does

not seem to be just one final interpretation. It seemed to have a warning not to give up on the

human instinct to care and nurture animal life. However, The Black Cat also hints to the warning

of too much alcohol consumption and its deadly long-term effects for yourself and the people

around you. Also, Poe’s story has another meaning, which informs the reader to caution against

pride and gloating. Whichever interpretation is determined of Poe’s fiction we can all agree that

his stories are highly entertaining.

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