27 pages 54 minutes read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Black Cat

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1843

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Character Analysis

The Narrator

Content Warning: This section references animal cruelty, alcohol addiction, domestic violence, and mental illness.

The story’s narrator and protagonist describes himself as gentle and compassionate by nature, with a particular respect for animals. His behavior would seem to contradict this portrait, as he abuses and eventually kills both his wife and his beloved pet cat. His actions themselves are equally erratic and contradictory; he weeps after killing Pluto but sleeps soundly after murdering his wife. The narrator ascribes his mood swings and violence to The Consequences of Alcohol Addiction, but it is difficult to know how much credence to give this assertion—or any that he makes—as he engages in deceptive narrative practices that qualify him as an unreliable narrator. For example, he invokes traditional superstitions about black cats as though to explain his behavior toward Pluto while simultaneously disavowing such superstitions. While it is possible that the narrator himself does not recognize what he is doing, this lack of self-awareness likewise makes his narration suspect.

Whether it is due to mental illness or intentional deceit, the narrator’s duality is a central thematic concern.