The Black Cat (IV) – The Black Cat

Spoiler Warning

Bet you thought I’d never finish.  But here it is!  The last part of my “The Black Cat” Review!

For those who need a refresher on what I was talking about, here are a few links to the previous portions of this thing:  Part One, Two, and Three

Do I need to mention spoilers at this point? Well, let’s considered them mentioned.

Mrs. B

Readers learn very little about Mrs. B during the course of the story. This isn’t that surprising, considering the source. Poe’s women tend to be ethereal presences more than actual entities (when they weren’t avenging angels, or course.). A better student of his work will find exceptions here and there, but in truth, even if she had been a he, her part would be no bigger. She serves two purposes in The Black Cat and the major one is as victim.

Let’s compare her briefly to the old man of The Tell Tale Heart. (You haven’t forgotten about that story already, have you?) The narrator claims he had nothing against his benefactor, even to go as far as to say he loved the man. But that’s about all that is said. No comments on whether the old man was kind, just, or the like. In many ways he is a shallower character. Not a knock against the story, mind you. Just the way things are.

Mrs. B, on the other hand, is a saint as far as her husband is concerned. He might suggest that she was was “not a little tinctured with superstition”, but for the most part it’s praise. Uncomplaining, he calls her, despite his offenses. It is clear he loved her very much.

But for the purpose of this review, one particular bit of praise should be pointed out (with a bit of added emphasis):

my wife, who, as I have already said, possessed, in a high degree, that humanity of feeling which had once been my distinguishing trait, and the source of many of my simplest and purest pleasures.

This then is Mrs. B’s second purpose: She is Mr. B’s mirror images. She is who he was, who he admires, who he perhaps wished he could be like again. Poe may have intended this or he may not have. It is there, though, all the same.

All of this is underscored by her murder. With Pluto, the brute beast, he goes on and on about the maiming and the death. Mrs. B’s suffering is mentioned almost in passing, as is her death. A huge paragraph for the cat, two sentences for the wife:

Goaded, by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp, and buried the axe in her brain. She fell dead upon the spot, without a groan.

But then again, isn’t what this whole story is about? Mr. B’s guilt? His confession? While he does brag and preen towards the end about how clever he had hidden his deed, he doesn’t do so with the pure joy the narrator of The Tell Tale Heart does. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think that, even if he had succeeded, he would already be damned.

End Game

None of this points to a supernatural agent, of course. One could be rational about it and say the only cause behind this tragedy is Mr. B’s own demons. However, there are a few coincidences dealing with the murder that suggest otherwise.

First note that the only time Mr. B can overcome his dread of the cat enough to lash out at it is after it “nearly throwing [him] headlong” down a flight of steps. A clear thinking man would have dark thoughts about this. One as muddled as him might well have seen this as a murder attempt. Which it might have been, come to that.

Then there’s the timing. The cat just happened to pick the exact moment his wife was with him. Interesting, that.  More so that it reveals itself at the exact moment of Mr. B’s triumph, while he’s showing the police his fine wall.   Add that to the final image – that of the hated animal dining on the beloved wife’s remains – and it seems a bit more than coincidence.

But what points to the supernatural is the cat’s behavior from the murder on, and it stems from more than a few things noticed as a cat owner.  If the cat wants nothing to do with a person, it goes as far away from the person as possible.  It doesn’t hide right in front of them.

On this, a cat is very vocal about its misery.  Being cooped up in a tight space, it would have made some noise, something Mr. B does not notice.  One could point to the fact the cat’s behind a brick wall…  but, as it can be heard at the climax it isn’t unreasonable to assume that it should have been heard at some point during the various searches performed towards.

Some might try to find a “rational” explination behind these things, but to my mind it spells out a ghostly presence and a horrific vengence.



3 Replies to “The Black Cat (IV) – The Black Cat”

  1. As with a lot of Poe’s work – there is no “rational explanation” to be had here. Our first clue is the cat’s name (Pluto being the Roman “Lord of the Underworld”) plus the story’s metaphorical link of the cat to alcoholism. As in “The Tell Tale Heart”, we also have Poe’s old standby issues of insanity, hiding in the wings. Retribution, brought on by guilt that is propelled by the supernatural and/or insanity, is common in Poe. Unlike H.P. Lovecraft, Poe’s characters actually seem to deserve their fate, for the most part. Quite different from the poor wretches that happen to stumble into spheres that they cannot control, in most of Lovecraft’s tales (with the notable exception of folks like Herbert West).

  2. I didn’t note a metaphoic link to alcoholism myself, but what does that mean? Certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

    I want to disagree with your Lovecraft comment, but for every protagonist I can think of who went nosing into things he didn’t need nosing into (“The Lurking Fear”, “The Hound”) I can think of another who simply had a bad choice in friends (“The Thing on the Doorstep”, “From Beyond”).

    I think, maybe, that the main difference between the two is that you tend to be glad when Poe’s protagonists get what’s coming to them, while you feel sorry for Lovecraft’s people.

    Except for the narrator of Lovecraft’s “The Tomb.” He was asking for it, big time.

  3. The alcoholism quote uses the antiquated term (Intemperance):

    “Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years, during which my general temperament and character – through the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance – had (I blush to confess it) experienced a radical alteration for the worse.”

    You’re right about the “friends” part in Lovecraft – you have to be careful who you associate with, in his stories. Personally, I try to check out the libraries of my aquaintances. Too many moldy tomes and I’m out of there.

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