For my expanding the conversation project I chose to cover Poe’s The Black Cat. While researching this story and looking for scholarly articles, I came across an article called, “Fear and Trembling in Literature of the Fantastic: Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat” by Richard Badenhausen. This article discussed The Black Cat on a much more in depth level than any other article did. In the article, Badenhausen discussed elements of a gothic tale and how fear is used in literature as a tactic to draw in readers. Badenhausen was able to introduce me to a new perspective that I can now use while reading Poe’s stories and other gothic works.
In Poe’s story, The Black Cat, a male narrator, scheduled for execution in less than 24 hours, retells his story that led up to his present. He retells the story of the life he lived, the compassion he once had, and the short marriage he experienced that led to his ugly behavior that ended in murder and destruction. The narrator and his wife were animal lovers and cared for many throughout their lives. Unfortunately, the narrator began habitually drinking heavily until it became a violent problem. A housecat, Pluto, he once loved now began to thoroughly irritate and enrage the narrator to the point of desiring violence towards the cat. The narrator eventually gouged one of the cat’s eyes out with a penknife and in due course, hanged the cat from a limb of a tree by its neck. The story trails on until the narrator and his wife adopt another cat that hauntingly resembles Pluto. Once again, the narrator becomes enraged by this cat while always having an uneasy feeling about it; this leads him to feel the desire to murder it. Unfortunately, in a drunken raged attempt to kill cat #2, the narrator kills his wife who tries defending the feline. The murder drives the narrator to dissemble the wife’s corpse and hatch a plan to conceal her body behind a makeshift brick wall in his cellar. The narrator’s final fall occurs when a couple of investigating policemen come to his home to search for his wife. They eventually discover her remains when a tap of a cane reveals the screeches of the cat, which had been consequently snacking on the remains of the wife’s corpse behind the brick wall.
In order to extend the conversation, I looked at this story while using source information. If you look into it, Poe has reoccurring themes and details that he conveys throughout his literary works; therefore, making The Black Cat alike others he has written. For example, Poe writes tales of macabre horror that depend on several elements: “haunting animal-figures; an isolated, self-conscious narrator coincidentally on the brink of madness; a grisly murder, or several; the subsequent mutilation of corpse(s)’s body; the struggle of the fear of fear; and the dread of the evil eye” (Badenhausen 488). All of these elements can be seen throughout all of Poe’s stories. With these elements, great works of Gothic and Horror genre are masterpieced.
The source information also led me to another discovery that is commonly seen throughout several of Poe’s stories: the narrator’s plea for relation from his audience. In works like The Black Cat and The Cask of Amontillado, readers gain a sense of position in the story through the sociopathic qualities of the stories’ narrators. Readers can also pick up on a notion of desire for pity and relation coming from the narrator by the word choice and uses of imagery in the stories. Poe writes with uses of pathos that can make the audience feel confused as to why they somehow relate or feel a sense of empathy for the narrator’s position, regardless of their inhumane and macabre actions. The narrator is “constantly qualifying, correcting, and explaining,” in the hopes of the audience seeing the events from his perspective (Badenhausen 488). Because he is a man sentenced to death, he is able to utilize a “preconceived effect” for sympathy (Badenhausen 488). Badenhause explains in his article that “the outcome of Poe’s tales is of paramount importance because it frequently determines how the narrator will sell his story to the reader” (489). With this article I was introduced to a new way of thinking and comprehending Poe’s works.
Another idea portrayed throughout this article is the theory of a formula for works of horror. Like I previously mentioned, Poe (and other authors) tend to follow similar structures or elements while writing their literary works. With this “formula” much more gruesome tales can be told. The formula begins with a narrator partaking in a gruesome act that disconnects them from everyday society. It’s then followed by a major degree of the complete separation that is magnified by his inhumane, calm response to the gruesome act. Once that is established, the narrator is faced with the act of addressing the situation, which he does so with a hearty denial for the reality of it. In The Black Cat, for example, the narrator calls his murderous act nothing more than a “mere series of household events”. And lastly, the narrator promises not the gruesome, graphic descriptions, but simple, sensible explanations for his actions, as if it were any other ordinary day. Poe accentuates this effect by allowing his narrator to concentrate not on the murder itself but on the grotesque methods considered for eliminating the body. In other words, the horror is not found within the murderous acts, but from the narrator’s refusal of humanization when the opportunity for a revelation arises. It is clear to see that the narrator’s purpose in telling the tale is to mock the events, see humor in his own sadism, and finally get the reader to identify with him (Badenhausen 490).
It is very interesting to look at works of Gothic and Horror in American Literature and compare it to classics like “The Black Cat”. If you analyze them, you can see a formula of horror that connects them all together. Whether it is a story by Washington Irving or Nathaniel Hawthorne, if analyzed thoroughly, you can see common themes of murder, dread, macabre, jealousy, rage, revenge and other interior motives ending in death.
Badenhausen, Richard. “Fear and Trembling in Literature of the Fantastic: Edgar Allan Poe’s `The Black Cat’.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 29, no. 4, Fall92, p. 487. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=9511241685&site=ehost-live.