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Topic: Poe Discussion 1, October 10- The Black Cat

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Subject: Poe Discussion 1, October 10- The Black Cat
Date Posted: 10/2/2009 11:43 AM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
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Our first Poe story is The Black Cat.

Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 10/2/2009 9:46 PM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2007
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Interesting. You picked a few Poe stories I haven't read, including this one.

I'm sure everyone knows how to do this, but here's the text of The Black Cat at Project Gutenberg.

Date Posted: 10/3/2009 12:09 AM ET
Member Since: 1/30/2009
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I actually wrote a paper about this one in college 20 years ago.  I wonder what happened to it?

Date Posted: 10/4/2009 1:43 PM ET
Member Since: 12/27/2007
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Okay, I give up!  I'll read these (again for some).  In fact, I just re-read "The Black Cat" this morning.  I'll be ready for the discussion.

Date Posted: 10/7/2009 9:44 AM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
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Some questions about The Black Cat:

Is the cat supernatural or a product of the narrator's insanity?

What did you think of Poe's portrayal of the narrator's alcoholism?  How much of his personality change was caused by that?

How much of what the narrator relates can be believed?

What do the cat(s) symbolize?  Why will the second cat never leave the narrator alone?

Did Poe create the fictional psychopath that is now a staple of horror fiction in stories like this? 

How has this story influenced later horror fiction?

Were there any quotes that stood out to you?

Was the story still frightening and/or effective?  Why or why not?

Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 10/10/2009 4:33 PM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2007
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OK, I said I hadn't read this, but it turns out I have. I had just forgotten.

In my view, most of this was alcoholism--late stage hallucinations. What did I think of the portrayal of it? Well, it suffered from what Poe often is bad at, in my opinion - he's too abrupt. His alcoholism was very much a told thing, rather than an observed thing. So was his self-characterization. He talked about how cruel he was to his animals and his wife, but the only instances we see are the final fireworks. So if one wants to get into the unreliable narrator biz, with Poe, I don't know how you do it.

No quotes really stood out for me - but the word 'hair' did - part of his list of ingredients for making plaster. I did not know that.


I thought the story was still somewhat frightening - some of the events were ghastly. I had a hard time swallowing his unbelievably bad small talk with the police.

I'm interested to hear what others think - I want to like Poe, but I often find the stories lacking.

Date Posted: 10/10/2009 8:27 PM ET
Member Since: 6/29/2008
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I admit I've actually read very little Poe. I was shocked by the way he matter-of-factly told about the instances of
abusing the other animals and his wife and then about cutting out the cat's eye and hanging it.  Some of the things
he talks about seem to be hallucinations, probably brought on by the alcoholism.

I didn't find the story frightening, just disturbing.

I was also surprised by "hair".  I didn't know how that would be an ingredient in the plaster.

Date Posted: 10/11/2009 2:41 PM ET
Member Since: 2/21/2008
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I haven't read Black Cat in about ten years, so this was a good read.  I enjoyed the story, but like others I sound it disturbing.  The violence against cats and women did set me back, but overall I think Poe did a good job in telling the story. 

Our narrator is obsessed with alcohol yet later transers this obsession to a black cat, which was pointed out to be a symbol of all things bad (devil-ish).  This cat has no name, as does our narrator, yet we read about the apparent affection it feels for him.  This affection is later turned to fear as our narrator shows violent tendencies.  When the narrator savagely removes one of the cats eyes, it can lead to the idea that the narrator himself doesn't like any to literally "see" what he has become and rather than change his behavior, he would rather make sure that one creature giving him unconditional love will no longer be witness to his self-destruction.  Poe is a mastermind of all things dark and gloomy and points out that our own worst enemy is ourselves. 

Poe himself suffered from alcoholism, but what ultimately killed him, believe it or not, was rabies.  Yes, you read that correctly, rabies.  This was a theory that has been wildly accepted by many academics.  (See University of Baltimore)  Of course, Black Cat was written before he got sick, and has nothing to do with Poe's death, but still it's an intersting fact about Poe. 

Date Posted: 10/12/2009 8:20 AM ET
Member Since: 12/27/2007
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I have taught (mostly to 8th graders) Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" many times.  I read "The Black Cat" years ago.  When I re-read "The Black Cat" for this discussion, I was almost disappointed in how similarly the narrator flaunts his confidence to the police.  In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator leads the police to the old man's (his murder victim) room and places the chair that he sits in on top of the floorboards where he had put the dismembered body.  Of course, in "The Black Cat," the narrator speaks of how well this house is made, banging on the walls with a cane.  I expect this type of repetition from the modern writers who churn out book after book, but I was surprised to notice this in two of Poe's stories.

As far as the cause of Poe's death, everything I've read still points to disagreement of how he actually died.  Every year I've seen another theory.

Date Posted: 10/13/2009 12:19 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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 This is my first reading of The Black Cat.

  

Quotes that stood out for me:

  

“. . . the spirit of PERVERSENESS” (in caps, emphasizing the core of the narrator)

  

“There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man.” (I just liked this sentence – very descriptive)

  

“It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself – to offer violence to its own nature – to do wrong for the wrong’s sake only . . .” 

 

 Poe is macabre (probably what attracted me as an adolescent!).

  

Perverseness – many of the narrator’s actions are done without logic or motivation – they are acts of perversity. Yet, he does feel remorse, more at the beginning than at the end of the story.

  

If I remember correctly (and someone correct me if I am wrong), Poe’s parents were actors – perhaps they gave him his sense for melodrama.

  

The narrator knows he is going whack-o and cannot do anything to stop it. I wondered at the statement in the first paragraph, “but to-morrow I die” . . . for killing his wife. A little like our narrator in The Turn of the Screw(!).

  

Doesn’t it seem fitting that the “reincarnation” of the cat he killed exposes him.

  

Vivian – I noticed the similarities between Tell-Tale Heart and Black Cat also. I’m curious when the two were written.

  

Diana – good to “see” you again!



Last Edited on: 10/13/09 12:20 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 10/13/2009 3:58 PM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2007
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Yes, "gossamer fidelity of mere man" stood out for me too. I did like that line.

Date Posted: 10/13/2009 9:13 PM ET
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Thanks Shelia...it's good to be back.

Poe's mother was an actress, but his father took off when he was very young.  I don't know what he did.

Black Cat and Tell-Tale Heart were both written in the same year, 1843.  My book shows Tell-Tale to have been written first, but someone correct me if I am wrong.



Last Edited on: 10/13/09 9:24 PM ET - Total times edited: 3
Date Posted: 10/14/2009 9:28 AM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
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I noticed the similarty with Tell-Tale Heart too, I guess even classic authors were guilty of repeating their formulas.  I remember my Shakespeare professor talking about how many of his plots were interchangable.  But actually I prefer the Black Cat to the Tell-Tale Heart.  Black Cat seemed creepier, maybe because more of the story was focused on the narrator's sadism.  What made it still an effective horror story to me was hearing the narrator describe his violence so matter of factly.  It was interesting how Poe combined supernatural horror (the reincarnated cat) with everyday horror (domestic violence, alcoholism etc).  Maybe because I just saw the movie again, but I noticed a lot of similarities between this story and The Shining.  What struck me the most about this story was the emphasis on animal cruelty.  I know there were a few what might be called animal rights groups in Poe's day, but mostly animal cruelty wasn't considered really wrong, whereas now its recognized as one of the signs of a budding serial killer.