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Black Cat Essay, Research Paper

In Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Black Cat”, there are many examples of ironies to which we as readers may not be fully aware of. I have listed a few of these ironies that I thought were relevant in the story’s plot and one, which I thought was the most significant. Ironies such as the narrator’s upbringing as having the “docility and humanity of disposition” (102.13), and “having fondness for animals and the feeling of happiness when feeding and caressing them”(103.1-3), are only a few examples of situational ironies in this story. They are ironies because his action towards his house pets do not endorse the humanity the animals deserve to be given and the so-called fondness he has for animals has been recently altered to be that of cruelly and hideously maltreating them. There are many more ironies in the story, but the most crucial irony was that in the conclusion. The concluding irony, one that I found to be the most significant, is when the narrator finds the black cat “walled-in” with his wife’s corpse. After his accidental but vicious attack on his wife with an ax, he wanted to conceal the corpse where no one would be able to witness his doings. To avoid public speculation he thought about how the “monks in the Middle Ages were recorded to have walled up their victims” (106.56) and so he then used the idea of the monks to cover up his wife’s dead body. In finishing his task of plastering the wall after his wife, he awaits the presence of the black cat to slaughter it, but it was nowhere to be found or seen. To his misfortune, he conceals the cat along with his wife’s corpse inside the wall and obliviously turns himself in to the authorities. This one, I think is most important because were it not for the concluding irony there would be no story. Since there are many more ironies in the story, it is this one that finalizes the story and one that initiated as well. The narrator is telling how this ordeal came about while awaiting his execution and to verbally recapture his then-life with his audiences to claim his sanity. While he reminisces, we as the reader can have an understanding of what he went through and think for a moment about what the black cat represents and if there really exists the black cat. Ironies besides the concluding one also helps thicken the plot in the story. We are given ironies such that I mentioned earlier in the essay and many more that help us understand and question the narrator’s sanity. In the event of the narrator eye gouging one of Pluto’s eyes, he said that he felt a “sentiment half of horror, half remorse, for the crime” (103.42-45). If his feelings were so remorseful, why didn’t he stop torturing the poor animal? I think this one captures the essence of a dramatic irony, feelings of ambiguity he is experiencing and yet the narrator acts on confused notions when killing his cat. Another irony that dramatizes his obscure feelings towards his cat, Pluto, was when he noosed up his cat from the limb of a tree to severely cut oxygen from its system or rather to kill it, execution style. He “hung it with tears streaming from his eyes and with the bitterest remorse at his heart.” “Hung it because he knew that it had loved him and because he felt it had given him no reason of offense- hung it because in doing so he was committing a sin” (104.19-21). Why then would the narrator act on impulses such as this one if his feelings were of the total opposite? Again a dramatic irony that leaves us, the readers to feel upset and to feel anger towards the narrator for having such deranged thoughts that only he can understand. Furthermore, through my interpretation of these ironies, it helps me to keep aware of the narrator’s behavior throughout the story. His behavior is what defines irony such that, the narrator seems to be fully conscious of what he is feeling but is completely out of touch with reality and acts on different morals from that of his emotions. These ironies are just a few that I’ve mentioned that correlates to its concluding irony. There also seems to be the debate of the black cat, how the story’s readers scrutinize it whether it does exist or not. It can be a symbol or can stand for something, to what it can stand for varies from reader to reader. Some may think that the black cat stands for something evil and that it only exists in the mind of the narrator. It can be a cause for an arguable debate and if so, one to which I’m not going to impose. I think there is a symbolic meaning to the black cat and I would think those who have read it would agree that it represents the narrator himself and what his character reveals about him. Why then would his inner character take a figure of a black cat? There are numerous reasons as to why it appeared in a shape of a cat. For one, a black cat back then was “regarded as witches at the time” (103.16). Witches were the source of all evil at the time and witches also had the power to put a spell on a person they wish to do harm. Second, the narrator, was once a lover of his cat named Pluto and was considerably loved by Pluto as well, when some time later there came this emotional setback that gave him a turn for the worse and he later “ill-used” and tortured and murdered his pets. In taking a figure of a cat he is given the horrible sense that the black cat is his evil side waiting to haunt him.

It was after killing the poor animal that he began his nightmares and weird assumptions about anything at all. When after killing his pet Pluto, there in his room a blaze of fire ignited and inside his room lay his dead cat. He automatically assumed that it was one of his neighbors who had untied his cat from the tree and threw it in his chamber. Next, when the black cat first appeared he enjoyed its companionship but no later did he feel total disregard for the cat and avoided it. He believed that the creature was acting in murderous manners and he undoubtedly felt that it was trying to kill him. “Whenever I sat, it would crouch beneath my chair, or spring upon my knees, covering me with its loathsome caresses. If I arose to walk, it would get between my feet and thus nearly throw me down, or, fastening its long and sharp claws in my dress.” (105.43-45). Here we see that, what the narrator is feeling towards the cat, and what he had done to his late cat, Pluto, was in some sense haunting him through a reversal of character. He is experiencing the same trepidation Pluto had when he inflicted physical pain upon it. The black cat may actually resemble his guilt and anguish and is therefore only present in his presence. The black cat is indeed a figment of the narrator’s imagination and it represents the subtleness of his dark side. It is a figure that made him realize his “sins” by having to actually feel what he had done with his animals. Only he does not know that it is his guilt eating up inside him and an urge to do away with that guilt was to create himself that cat to release the guilt inside him. In the end of the story he says something remarkably ironic to the authorities. One of the verbal ironies I found to be truly shocking was that of when the authorities went uninvited in his house to investigate his missing wife and unconsciously turned himself in to the police investigators – “I may say an excellently well-constructed house. These walls – are you going gentlemen? – these walls are solidly put together” (107.45-46) Were it not for that statement he made, he would have still possessed the freedom he once had. He was pointing to the wall where he had vertically buried his wife’s body and mentioned that “the cat had seduced him into murder” (108.15) when it was really the feeling of guilt, frustration and fear that ended his life. Also, if the cat did exist, that cat would have suffered agonizingly without oxygen inside the wall and have died of starvation. The black cat then, can be regarded as his form of guilt and madness and that there never really was a black cat initially but that it only lived in the mind of the narrator. With this in mind, we not only have a better understanding of what the black cat stands for, but also what it is about the narrator’s description of the black cat that makes it profoundingly real. Since the ending of the story consisted of the most important irony I interpreted the story’s conclusion as to “what comes around goes around”, and “there is a price for every deed.” These may all sound like such clich s but it may or may not be a form of moral explanation, if it indeed it had one. I say that because the story consists of a moral justification. In the story, the narrator murdered his wife and concealed tangible evidence or any evidence at all that will allow him to seal his horrid deed. Even with the perfect concealment there is always a way of finding out the horrible truth. In addition, since I have justified the black cat as a symbol of the narrator’s cruel persona we can safely say that what he did with those poor pets was avenged by a figment of his imagination of a cat.

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