The Black Cat Summary

Edgar Allan Poe

The Black Cat

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The Black Cat Summary

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The short horror story “The Black Cat,” written by Edgar Allan Poe in 1843, explores guilt and its psychological destruction. An unreliable and unnamed person narrates the story from a first person point of view by. One questions the sanity and truthfulness of an unreliable narrator. The narrator’s hatred for the cat is symbolic of his hatred of himself and who he once was. An alcoholic, he can no longer stand the idea of his former self and his love of animals.

“The Black Cat” begins with a disclaimer from the imprisoned narrator. He is aware the story he is about to tell is preposterous and otherworldly, but it is the eve of his death by execution and he wants to get the story off his chest. The narrator believes he was a good man most of his life. People agreed that he was honorable. He also loved animals of all kinds; his favorite growing up had been his dog, although he had had many animals.

He grew up and married at a young age. His wife also loves animals, and they have pets. Pluto, a black cat, is one of the narrator’s favorite pets. Pluto seems to prefer the narrator as well. Pluto and the narrator are good friends for several years. Unfortunately, the narrator becomes an alcoholic and his mood and demeanor take a turn for the worse. The narrator becomes abusive towards his wife and towards their animals, sparing only Pluto. Regrettably, one night the narrator comes home drunker than ever. To his alcohol-addled mind, Pluto seems to be avoiding him. The narrator seizes Pluto, who bites him. Incensed, the narrator takes a penknife and gouges out the cat’s eye.

The narrator soberly awakens the next morning, with feelings of remorse. These feelings do not last for long, as he decides he has blackened his soul and will continue to commit misdeeds, just for the sake of it. Pluto flees from the narrator in terror now, which begins to irritate him. As what he calls his final act of blackening his soul, he murders the cat, hanging it from a noose on a tree.

The same night, the narrator’s house catches on fire. He and his wife along with a servant are spared, but their possessions are destroyed. He convinces himself that there is no connection between the fire and the cat. The next day, the narrator finds a group of people crowded around his house discussing something. The fire left an impression of a hanged cat on one of the remaining walls. The narrator tries to rationalize this in his mind, as it disturbs him. He is haunted by the image for many months, and misses the cat. He figures someone must have thrown the cat, trying to wake him during the fire, causing the imprint.

Some months later, the narrator is drinking again and spots a cat on top of a barrel of liquor. This cat is black as well, and is missing an eye, but it has a white spot on his chest. He develops a fondness for the cat and brings it home, to the delight of his wife. As happened last time, the narrator begins to loathe the cat, but is slightly afraid of it. His wife, whom the cat prefers, shows him the white patch on the cat has grown; the new shape somewhat resembles gallows. The cat will not leave the narrator alone, as much as the narrator tries to avoid it. The cat stands on his chest while he tries to sleep, keeping the narrator awake at night. The narrator continues to abuse his wife, both verbally and physically.

One day, the cat gets underfoot of the narrator as he and his wife descend to the cellar, causing him to trip down the stairs. Enraged, he goes after the cat with an axe. His wife tries to defend the cat, so the narrator kills her instead, burying the axe in her head. He accepts what he has done and deliberates on how to hide the body. He considers both dismembering and burying her. He removes some bricks from a wall, hiding her body there, then replacing the bricks. He sleeps peacefully that night, as the cat is nowhere to be found as well.

Soon, the police come looking for his wife. The cat is still missing. They investigate for a few days. On the last day, the narrator pleads innocence and ignorance, as he coolly and calmly leads the police through his house. The police are about to abandon their investigation without looking in the cellar. The narrator, feeling he has gotten away with his crime, brags about how well the home is built. He raps on the wall with a cane, directly where his wife’s body resides. In response, there is a wraithlike wailing. It’s a terrible sound, but there is something triumphant about it. The police remove the bricks and discover his wife’s body—with the cat perched on top of her head, howling. He had accidentally walled up the live cat as well.