Edgar Allen Poe

.. presents “an irreconcilable fracture in the individual’s personality.” Roderick represents the mind or the intellect, while Madeline represents the portion of personality that we refer to as the senses (hearing, seeing, touching, tasting and smelling). During the course of the story, the intellect Roderick tries to detach itself from its more physically oriented twin Madeline. This can be seen in Roderick’s aversion to his own senses as well as by his premature entombment of his twin sister. Living without Madeline (that is without the senses), Roderick’s condition deteriorates.

He begins to suffer from an “..intolerable agitation of the soul.” At the end of the story, Madeline returns from her premature tomb to claim the maddened Roderick, ” a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.” As the two are reunited in death (the mind can neither live nor die without its physical counterpart, the senses), the house ( a symbol of a now deranged individual) crumbles into the “deep and dank tarn,” as the narrator flees in terror for his own sanity. Not only does Poe talk about premature burials in his work, but he also deals with concealed burials in books such as “The Tale-Tale Heart and “The Black Cat”. As the story begins, the narrator is in jail awaiting his execution, which will occur on the following day, for the brutal murder of his wife. At that point, the rest of the story is told in flashback, as the narrator pens “..the most wild, yet homely narrative..whose events have terrified–have tortured–have destroyed him.”Although several characters are mentioned in this story, the true focus lies upon the nameless narrator, who is known for his “..docility and humanity of ..disposition. His tenderness of heart made him the jest of his companions.” He was especially fond of animals, and he was pleased to find a similar fondness for pets in his wife.

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They had many pets including “..birds, gold fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat.” The cat was a large, beautiful animal that was entirely black. Pluto, as he was called, was the narrator’s favorite pet. He alone fed him, and Pluto followed the narrator wherever he went. Occasionally, his wife would refer to an old superstitious belief that “..all black cats were witches in disguise. Not that she was ever serious upon this point…” Poe writes this story from the perspective of the narrator, a man whose “..temperament and character are transformed through the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance alcohol.” Telling the story from the first person point of view (a perspective that Poe used quite frequently), intensifies the effect of moral shock and horror. Once again, the reader is invited (as was the case in both “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado”) to delve into the inner workings of the dark side of the mind.

“‘The Black Cat’ is one of the most powerful of Poe’s stories, and the horror stops short of the wavering line of disgust” (Quinn 395). Poe constructed this story in such a way that the events of the tale remain somewhat ambiguous. As the narrator begins to recount the occurrences that “..have terrified–have tortured–have destroyed him,” he reminds the reader that maybe “..some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than his own,” will perceive “..nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.” As the narrator begins to tell his story (flashback), the reader discovers that the man’s personality had undergone a drastic transformation which he attributes to his abuse of alcohol and the perverse side of his nature, which the alcohol seemed to evoke. The reader also discovers (with the introduction of Pluto into the story) that the narrator is superstitious, as he recounts that his wife made “..frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, that all black cats are witches in disguise.” Even though the narrator denies this (much as the narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” denies that he or she is insane), the reader becomes increasingly aware of his superstitious belief as the story progresses. Superstition (as well as the popular notion to which the man’s wife refers) has it that Satan and witches assume the form of black cats.

For those who believe, they are symbols of bad luck, death, sorcery, witchcraft, and the spirits of the dead. Appropriately, the narrator calls his cat, Pluto, who in Greek and Roman mythology was the god of the dead and the ruler of the underworld (symbolism). As in other Poe stories ( “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Gold Bug”), biting and mutilation appear. The narrator of “The Black Cat” first becomes annoyed when Pluto “inflicted a slight wound upon [the] hand with his teeth.” After the cat bites him, the narrator cuts out its eye. Poe relates “eyes” and “teeth” in their single capacity to take in or to incorporate objects. This dread of being consumed often leads the narrator to destroy who or what he fears (Silverman 207).

Poes pronounced use of foreshadowing leads the reader from one event to the next (“one night,” “one morning,” “on the night of the day,” etc.). Within the first few paragraphs of the story, the narrator foreshadows that he will violently harm his wife (“At length, I even offered her personal violence.”). However, are the events of the story, as the narrator suggests, based upon “..an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effect,” or are they indeed caused by the supernatural? By using, three main events in this story (the apparition of the first cat upon the burned wall, the appearance of the gallowslike pattern upon the chest of the second cat, and the discovery of the second cat behind the cellar wall), a convincing case can be presented for both sides. While making a case for the logical as well as the supernatural, one must remember the state of mind of the narrator. An alcoholic who has a distorted view of reality describes all events for the reader.

The narrator goes to great lengths to scientifically explain the apparition of the cat in the wall; however, the chain of events that he re-creates in his mind are so highly coincidental that an explanation relying on the supernatural may be easier to accept. Once again, the reader wonders if the narrator’s perceptions can be believed as he describes the gallowslike pattern upon the chest of the second cat. Maybe what he sees is just a hallucination of a tormented mind. The markings of an adult cat surely would not change that much, unless maybe the pattern was not part of the animal’s fur, but only a substance on its surface which, with time, could wear off and disappear (a substance such as plaster?). Afterall, the second cat is also missing an eye.

Poe is very careful to avoid stating if it is the same eye of which Pluto was deprived. Are there really two cats in this story, or did Pluto (possibly “a witch in disguise”) survive, and return for retribution. Of all the incidents, the discovery of the cat (first or second) behind the cellar wall is the easiest to believe. The cat was frightened by the man, and logically, sought shelter. What is somewhat strange is the fact that the police searched the cellar several times, and not one time did the cat make a sound.

It was not until the narrator rapped heavily with a cane upon the wall, that the cat responded. Was it a series of natural causes and effects, or was it what the narrator described? “Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb.” “The Black Cat” is Poe’s second psychological study of domestic violence and guilt (the first being “The Tell-Tale Heart”); however, this story does not deal with premeditated murder. The reader is told that the narrator appears to be a happily married man, who has always been exceedingly kind and gentle. He attributes his downfall to the “Fiend Intemperance” and “the spirit of perverseness.” Perverseness, he believes, is “..one of the primitive impulses of the human heart.” “Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a stupid action for no other reason than because he knows he should not?” Perverseness provides the rationale for otherwise unjustifiable acts, such as killing the first cat or rapping with his cane upon the plastered-up wall behind which stood his wife’s corpse “..already greatly decayed and clotted with gore.” We might argue that what the narrator calls “perverseness” is actually conscience.

Guilt about his alcoholism seems to the narrator the “perverseness” which causes him to maim and kill the first cat. Guilt about those actions indirectly leads to the murder of his wife who had shown him the gallows on the second cat’s breast. A warped sense of triumph and the conscience of the murderer cause the disclosure of the crime, as in “The Tell-Tale Heart,”. What makes this story different from “The Tell-Tale Heart” is that Poe has added a new element to aid in evoking the dark side of the narrator, and that is the supernatural. Now the story has an added twist as the narrator hopes that the reader, like himself, will be convinced that these events were not “..an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.” ” The story covers a period of approximately eight days with most of the important action occurring each night around midnight.

The location is the home of an elderly man in which the narrator has become a character. This story contains a nameless narrator, an old man and the police who enter near the end of the story after the mention, that they were called by a neighbor whose suspicions had been aroused upon hearing a scream in the night. The protagonist or narrator becomes the true focus of the tale. This narrator may be male or female because Poe uses only “I” and “me” in reference to this character. Most readers assume that the narrator is a male because of a male author using a first person point of view; however, this story can also be plausible when the deranged protagonist appears as a woman. Most critics would argue this point by saying that Poe would “assume” that the reader would “know” that the protagonist was male, therefore, he would see no need to identify his sexless narrator.

However, Poe was a perfectionist who left very little to guesswork. Could it be that this was no accident or something that he thought would be universally understood, but that Poe was creating a story whose impact could be changed simply by imagining this horrendous and vile deed being committed by a woman? Poe writes this story from the perspective of the murderer of the old man. When an author creates a situation where the protagonist tells a personal account, the overall impact of the story is heightened. The narrator, in this particular story, adds to the overall effect of horror by continually stressing to the reader that he or she is not mad, and tries to convince us of that fact by how carefully this brutal crime was planned and executed. Poe’s story is a case of domestic violence that occurs as the result of an irrational fear. To the narrator that fear is represented by the old man’s eye.

Through the narrator, Poe describes this eye as being pale blue with a film over it, and resembling that of a vulture. Does the narrator have any reason to fear the old man or his eye? Is it this phobia that evokes the dark side, and eventually drives the narrator to madness? Or could Poe be referring to a belief whose origins could be traced back to Greece and Rome? The belief in the evil eye dates back to ancient times and even today, is fairly common in India and the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. References are made to it in Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu faiths. The belief centers on the idea that those who possess the evil eye have the power to harm people or their possessions by merely looking at them. Wherever this belief exists, it is common to assign the evil eye as the cause of unexplainable illnesses and misfortunes of any kind. To protect oneself from the power of the eye, certain measures can be taken.

In Muslim areas, the color blue is painted on the shutters of the houses, and found on beads worn by both children and animals. There is also a specific hand gesture named the “Hand of Fatima,” named after the daughter of Mohammed. This name is also given to an amulet in the shape of hand that is worn around the neck for protection. In some locations, certain phrase such as ” as God will” or “God bless it” are uttered to protect the individual from harm. In extreme cases, the eye, whether voluntarily or not, must be destroyed. One Slavic folktale relates the story of the father who blinded himself for fear of harming his own children with his evil eye. Would Poe have had knowledge of this rather strange belief? It is altogether possible that he would have, which creates another interesting twist to this story.

Maybe the narrator, who tries to convince us that madness is not really the issue, is telling the truth. Maybe this vile act is necessary in order to destroy the power of the old man’s evil e Human nature is a delicate balance of light and dark or good and evil. Most of the time this precarious balance is maintained; however, when there is a shift, for whatever reason, the dark or perverse side surfaces. How and why this “dark side” emerges differs from person to person. What may push one individual “over the edge” will only cause a raised eyebrow in another.

In this case, it is the “vulture eye” of the old man that makes the narrator’s blood run cold. It is this irrational fear which evokes the dark side, and eventually leads to murder. The narrator plans, executes and conceals the crime; however, what has been hidden within the self will not stay concealed. (Silverman 208) The narrator speaks of an illness that has heightened the senses: “Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heavens and in the earth. I heard many things in hell.” The narrator repeatedly insists that he (she) is not mad; however the reader soon realizes that the fear of the vulture eye has consumed the narrator, who has now become a victim to the madness which he had hoped to elude.

In conclusion, the information that has been provided shows that Poe uses the method or style of premature and concealed burials throughout his works.