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December 16, 2014

“The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe

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Written by: Devlin Woods

On the night before he is sent to the gallows, an unnamed narrator reflects on the murder of his wife, but not without making excuses for his “hideous crime.” An unreliable account of murder and animal cruelty, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” is a must-read for anyone fascinated with the mad rationalizations of a 19th-century killer.

Published in 1843, “The Black Cat” is an early psychological portrait of a killer, and its still one of the best. He insists its a confession, a mere acknowledgement of the facts as they stand, yet the killer avoids the heavy-handed truth of his own will to violence. Don’t be fooled by this guy’s anguish, because in spite of his “intemperate” mood and phantasmic visions, he fancies himself sane and as much a victim as his wife.

After gouging out his cat’s eye with a pen-knife, he hangs his once-beloved pet out of some sick sense of mercy and self-punishment… or so he claims. The story grows more bizarre and fantastic after the act, as the killer tries to reason his way out of his own madness. His home is destroyed in a mysterious blaze. The image of the cat- named Pluto- is fixed upon the ruins of his house- and after much alleged grief a new cat appears that is almost identical to the dead one, missing eye and all.

For the narrator, Pluto’s doppelganger is the symbol of what he’s been condemned to: “The GALLOWS! – oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime – of Agony and of Death!” The poor cat is as scapegoated as the serpent in Genesis. Pluto 2.0, the killer claims, is an evil little brute who “seduced” him into accidentally burying his ax in his wife’s brain.

Like any good Poe character, the narrator is eloquent and deranged. He can’t own up to his depravity and instead projects his appetite for destruction onto another object, in this case an animal. When he’s not blaming Pluto, he blames the bottle- or chalks it up to the general perverseness of human nature.

The narrator is filled with anxiety and dread as the hour of his death approaches. But as can be expected from a Poe story, even if the killer can’t admit to his evil intentions- the truth will reveal itself in a hidden grave.

About the Author

Devlin Woods
Devlin Woods
Devlin Woods was born and raised in one of the darkest and coldest regions of the world. Maybe that's why she's fascinated by all things bleak and desolate, like the frozen wasteland where Frankenstein battled his monster- or the empty souls of serial killers.

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