27 pages 54 minutes read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Black Cat

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1843

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Symbols & Motifs

Black Cats

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

Black cats are a traditional symbol of evil, associated particularly with witches and thus the devil. Although Pluto, the narrator’s first black cat, is initially his favorite pet, the name suggests an association with death and darkness from the start (Pluto being the Roman god of the underworld). This is certainly the role the black cats play in the narrator’s version of events, as the narrator repeatedly links them to witches, ghosts, and demons. The black cats are therefore convenient scapegoats for his own crimes.

Various details call the narrator’s interpretation of the cats into question, including the fact that the narrative function of the second cat is not to torment the narrator but rather to bring him to justice. It is likewise suggestive that the narrator feels mocked by the fact that “a brute beast” has shown him the image of the gallows (227). He takes this as an affront to his supposedly elevated status as a human, belying his earlier claim that he holds animals in higher esteem than people. Lastly, the behavior that sparks his frustration with the cats is significant; the narrator maims Pluto when he believes the cat is avoiding him but turns on the second cat because it is too affectionate.