A Psychological Tale Essay, Research Paper
In Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Black Cat” the narrator experiences a mental and moral breakdown. This breakdown and its consequences are revealed through the story’s two parallel structures. The first structure, divided into three sections, reflects the narrator’s mental and moral collapse. Likewise, the second structure, also divided into three sections, reflects the consequences of that collapse. Each structure relates the three common elements to both his breakdown and to the consequences of his mental and moral collapse. The three common elements related to each structure are: a cat, an atrocity, and an expose.
The first structure reflects the narrator’s mental and moral collapse and one of the three common elements, a cat, help relate to the narrator’s breakdown. The cat, named Pluto, was “a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree.” The cat’s name, Pluto, links the cat to the Roman god of the underworld, something not earthly. The color of the cat along with its “sagacious” nature associates the cat with a superstition. The narrator’s wife refers to the superstition that “all black cats as witches in disguise.” The color of the cat associates Pluto with bad luck. The narrator’s main goal is to plant the idea on the reader’s brain that there is something unnatural or supernatural about Pluto, and this deals with one of the steps to the narrator’s mental and moral collapse in the first structure.
Following the cat to the narrator’s breakdown is the atrocity. One factor involved in the narrator’s mental and moral decline is his sensitive nature, which caused his classmates to ridicule him. “My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions.” In other words, his classmates laughed, made fun of, and even ridiculed him. This has caused the narrator to decline both mentally and morally. Another factor is the narrator begins to prefer animals as friends then to people as friends. During his younger years, the narrator was “indulged” with a great variety of pets. With these he spent most of his time and was never so happy. The result of the narrator being actually loved by a pet caused him to turn towards its friendship rather than a human being. Turning to the pets leads the narrator to the next factor, and absence of human relationships in his life. The narrator was constantly being made fun of as a child, and because of this, he has no human relationship in his life. Consequently, since the narrator was not being involved, it caused a mental and moral decrease. Finally, the fourth and final factor, alcoholism, causes the narrator to do things to his best friend. Because of his drinking problem, the narrator grew “more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others.” He mutalizes the cat by cutting out the cat’s eyes and feels “half of horror” and “half of remorse”. The narrator goes on the say his “soul remained untouched”, but he is not sorry enough to change his ways to stop drinking. The guilt actually produces the opposite effect-he drinks more. Furthermore, the narrator goes on to hang the cat, and blames the “spirit of Perverseness”, a spirit stimulated by his drinking, and the drinking (alcoholism) reflects back to one of those factors involved in his mental and moral decline.
In addition to the cat and the atrocity, the expose contributes to the breakdown of the narrator. The expose is a personal expose, not public and the image of the hanged cat on the wall relates to the personal expose. The image is described as “the figure of a gigantic cat,” which is a projection of the narrator’s guilt. He has a need to appear rational, so he offers an explanation to the figure on the wall. The explanation leads to the breakdown of the narrator.
The second structure reflects the consequence of that collapse and likewise, the second structure has three common elements that lead the consequence. The cat is the first consequence in the second structure. The narrator is seeking a replacement and finds one by looking in places that he “habitually frequented”. While “half stupefied” or half drunk, the narrator finds a replacement on a keg of gin or rum. Yet, he has been looking at the keg of gin for sometime before seeing the replacement, a cat. The narrator has been looking at the keg for sometime before seeing the cat. This suggests the cat comes from the narrator’s imagination and reflects the narrator’s guilty conscience. That is one symbol of the narrator s consequence, his imagination of a cat. Better yet, after bringing the animal home, he begins to see some features that he had not been aware of before: a missing eye and the gallows image. The missing eyes, reflecting the cutting of Pluto s eye out, and the gallow s image, the hanging platform for Pluto, bring back the guilt and the consequence on the narrator. The narrator feels annoyance, disgust, hatred and absolute dread and feels he needs to be punished for what he did to Pluto. He is beginning to receive the consequences of that collapse.
The narrator’s desire to be punished for his crime against Pluto leads to the atrocity and it starts with the murder of his wife: “I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain. She fell dead upon the spot without a groan.” When the narrator kills his wife and deposits the body in the inner wall, he goes head hunting for the cat. Yet it appeared the “crafty animal had been alarmed at the violence” and refused to present itself in the narrator’s present mood. The cat temporarily disappears (guilt) and along with it disappears the guilt of the narrator. Perhaps the narrator finally realizes he is going to be punished at last, even though he is not consciously thinking. The narrator comes to the senses that he is going to be punished (consequences) for a crime he has committed (collapse).
Leading into the third and final element of the second structure is the expose. This expose, unlike the other, is a public expose because the police are aware of his crime. The police realize that the wife’s corpse is in the cellar as it says, “At length, for the third or fourth time, they descended into the cellar.” Yet the narrator gives away the truth as he “walked the cellar from end to end,” and consequently, the wife’s corpse is discovered. The second structure comes to an end by reflecting the consequence of that collapse.
In conclusion, the cat, the atrocity and the expose are the three common elements related to each structure. These structures reflect the narrator’s mental and moral collapse along with the consequences of that collapse. In Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Black Cat” the narrator experiences a mental and moral breakdown. As a result, that is why “The Black Cat” is a psychological tale.