The black cat by Edgar Allan Poe: summary
The narrator, sentenced to death, decides to tell his story. He immediately declares that he knows that he will not be believed by anyone but must remove the weight he carries on his conscience.
He says he was a docile and affectionate child, with a great passion for animals. The woman he later married loved them too and so they had birds, goldfish, a dog, rabbits, a monkey and a cat in the house.
The cat was called Pluto (name by which in Greek mythology the god of the kingdom of the dead was designated), it was strong and beautiful, completely black; he was his favorite playmate.
Later, the narrator began drinking, beating his wife and mistreating animals, while maintaining a certain regard for the cat. One night he came home drunk drunk: it seemed to him that the black cat was looking at him sideways, so he grabbed him violently. The frightened beast bit him and the owner took out one eye with a penknife.
As the days went by and the habit of drinking increased, the sight of the cat with that empty eye irritated him terribly, until one morning he took a rope and hanged him from a tree branch. That same night a fire broke out in his house. He barely managed to escape with his wife and a maid. The whole house collapsed, apart from a thin partition wall where the head of his bed rested.
Intrigued by a crowd crowded around that wall, he approached and saw printed on the white plaster the silhouette of a monstrous and gigantic cat with a rope around its neck. The incident impressed him strongly: for many months the ghost of the cat continued to appear, so much so that he decided to replace it with another one that resembled it.
One night, while he was in a tavern getting drunk, he saw a black cat as big as Pluto, almost identical to him, except for a white stripe that encircled his neck, and yet this one was missing an eye. When he came out, the cat followed him and followed him home. The new cat aroused irritation and disgust in the narrator, and soon began to hate him. Among other things, he had recognized with terror in the white stripe that encircled his neck the resemblance to a rope.
One day while he was going down to the cellar with his wife, the cat slipped between his legs, almost causing him to fall. In anger, he grabbed a hatchet and began to strike madly. He heard a groan, stopped and realized that instead of killing the cat he had killed his wife. He walled the woman’s body into a cellar wall. The cat seemed to have disappeared and this brought him a great relief.
After a few days, a police team showed up at his home for a search. He calmly and naturally accompanied them.
When the policemen, fully convinced of his innocence, were about to leave, the protagonist began to speak: he told them that the one where he lived was really a well-built house. Having said this with a stick he hit the wall behind which was the corpse of his wife. There was a faint sound, which then expanded into a long, piercing cry. The cops started hammering on the wall and it collapsed. The bloody corpse of the woman appeared and the black cat on her head!
The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe: comment
The whole story is a mix of fear and absurd reasoning and anguished sensations. The cat, deprived of one eye, assumes a “fearful aspect”; after the fire in the house, on the only wall still standing, the figure of a giant cat appears with a rope around his neck and the protagonist is “invaded by an uncontrollable astonishment and terror”; for a long time he is haunted by the ghost of the cat and the white spot on his chest takes on the appearance of a gallows.
The anguish also affects the reader who witnesses a crescendo of macabre actions, from the episode of the penknife to that of the hanging of the cat, then of the murder of his wife with an ax on the head and, finally, of the concealment of the corpse.
The narration of the various facts develops organically and consequentially, in a continuous contrast between the efforts of reason to penetrate and understand the facts and the continuous rise of irrational fears. This subtle game gets the final touch with the final surprise. In fact, when the story seems to have ended and clarified in every detail and the protagonist seems to have rationally convinced himself that he is now safe from any danger, here is a new event, unpredictable and terrible (the chilling scream that suddenly rises in the cellar of the protagonist), comes not only to nail the protagonist to his faults, but to overturn the oscillation between reason and emotion that had characterized the story to the full advantage of the mystery and fearful obsessions.