The Black Cat

The Black Cat Imagery

Rationalization Through Demons and Cats

Central to the narrator’s state of mind regarding the black cat as a thing of evil is his alcoholism. The narrator is clearly in a state of denial of responsibility for his actions because he distances himself from the consequences of his liquor consumption by projecting his own guilty conscience upon the cat as an agent of evil. He also distances himself his alcoholism through metaphorical imagery intended to deny his complicity:

[The] fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame.

In other words, it was not the narrator’s inability to know when to say when that caused him to commit his crimes, but rather a demon in possession of his body that forced him to do its bidding.

The Appearance of the Second Cat

One particular passage related by the narrator offers a potential answer to the question of whether the second black cat ever existed at all or is, instead, merely a phantasm of the narrator’s diseased imagination:

One night as I sat, half stupified, in a den of more than infamy, my attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing upon the head of one of the immense hogsheads of Gin, or of Rum, which constituted the chief furniture of the apartment. I had been looking steadily at the top of this hogshead for some minutes, and what now caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner perceived the object thereupon.

The images presented here are vital: the object of the narrator’s attention for several uninterrupted minutes is a big cask of alcohol, and according to him, a cat was allegedly sitting there the whole time without being seen. The link between what is of such intense interest to him (the alcoholic’s favorite subject) and the fact that he somehow managed to avoid seeing a cat there, despite training his focus upon the hogshead for such an extended period of time, could indicate that Cat Number Two is a figment of his guilty conscience—perhaps brought on by his alcohol-soaked madness.

The Mutilation of the First Cat

The imagery used to describe the narrator’s attack upon the black cat is intended to be visceral and shocking because it serves as a major turning in the point in the narrative.

I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.

A pen-knife is small and not very sharp and so the very physicality of cutting free an eyeball from its sock would be far more violent and gruesome than if a standard-sized knife were used. There is a forced vividness to this scene of a man practically strangling a cat while working for at least a minute or two to cut its beautiful eyes away from its body. Equally palpable is the ability to feel sorry for the blushing and shuddering he feels in retrospect. The removal of the cat’s eye symbolically links the reader to how the cat’s demeanor toward his owner changes after this confrontation: from this point on, the reader also sees the narrator differently.

The Narrator's Initial, "Tender" Nature

From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets.

The imagery with which the narrator describes himself here sounds almost like something out of a 1950s TV sitcom. Infancy suggests the absolute innocence of childhood while he underlines the depth of humanity he exhibited toward animals with both individual words (docility, tenderness, fond) and images (being mocked by other kids). This introduction only heightens and intensifies the horrific manifestation of inhumanity toward animals that is come.