27 pages 54 minutes read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Black Cat

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1843

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The Sources of Sin

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

In its depiction of the narrator’s guilt, “The Black Cat” relies on a Christian framework of sin. Other than his alcohol addiction, the narrator can give no reason for why he murdered his beloved Pluto beyond a “spirit of Perverseness” (225). This tendency, which he describes as an inclination to do wrong simply for its own sake, roughly resembles the notion of original sin—the innate propensity to do wrong, in Christian theology. In other words, while the devil might have tempted humanity into its initial sin, the primary locus of evil in Christianity is internal rather than external.

If sin is universal and inevitable, the best one can do is repent of it, and this is what Christianity typically teaches: that virtually any sin is forgivable if one seeks forgiveness. Here, however, the narrator encounters a stumbling block. For one, it is unclear whether he believes his sin as pardonable; he describes killing Pluto as “a deadly sin that would so jeopardize [his] immortal soul as to place it—if such a thing were possible—even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God” (225).