In "The Black Cat," the narrator was aware that his thoughts and actions were transforming into a downward spiral. He was aware of his increased irritability, his disregard of the feelings of others, and the unreasonable violent actions he carried out towards his wife. He was even aware that his favorite pet and playmate, Pluto, was falling victim to the ill-effects brought by alcoholism onto the narrator. However, for reasons that remain inscrutable to the reader, he continues his descent into moral degeneration. Is he affected with "perverseness"? Is it a result of the alcohol? Does he not know what he is doing?
The ill-effects of alcoholism
In this story, the narrator describes to the readers the effects of the “Fiend Intemperance." It was due to the increased intake of alcohol that the narrator experienced a radical alteration for the worse. He became more irritable, cared little for the feelings of others, and often used intemperate language with his wife—not to mention the violent acts he committed towards her. He abused the rabbits, the dogs, the monkey, and even his favorite pet, Pluto. We do not know why he was driven to drink, and being drunk did not explain all of his evil deeds—but alcohol certainly exacerbated his behavior and helped him stray further from a unified self.
The theme of supernatural elements pervades this story. The title itself suggests supernatural elements, for there are various superstitions regarding the bad luck that a black cat allegedly brings. In this story, the narrator kills his pet—Pluto, a black cat—by hanging him from a tree branch. After the murder of the black cat, bad luck followed the narrator. His house burned down, only one wall remained, and that wall had an impression of the black cat with a rope about the animal’s neck. A few days later, another black cat appeared in front of the narrator. This cat looked exactly like Pluto except it had a patch of white fur at the bosom, which later represented the "gallows." The events that followed the hanging of Pluto can be attributed to supernatural explanations, for it is a common belief that a black cat brings bad luck.
The narrator's guilt is what brought the black cat back to haunt him. The cat represents his guilt: as the narrator became more guilty, the cat became more realistic. For example, the only time the cat was heard was when the police were searching the narrator's house, at which point his guilt and fear finally pushed him into full madness. The narrative shows that guilt is a key factor in man's descent into madness—yet also a vital part of what keeps us human.
The Divided Self
The narrator experiences a fragmented, divided self. This is apparent not only in the dichotomy between the man telling the tale and the man committing the acts in the tale, but also in terms of nearly all of his actions once his "perverseness" set in. He vacillated between sanity and insanity, between fear and horror of the cat and the impulse to act. He had nightmares, drunken stupors, and paroxysms of rage and despair. He killed his cat and then desired another one; he felt poorly for his long-suffering wife but murdered her without a thought. The only bliss and peace he had were when he completely lost himself after killing his wife and walling up the cat in the tomb.
The Black Cat Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Black Cat is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.