The many interpretations of Poe’s “The Black Cat”, and an analysis of its narration style (2024)




5 min read


Nov 8, 2019


‘The Black Cat’ is a short story by the famous American poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is known to be part of the American Romantic movement, and is famous for his writings that incorporate mystery and macabre. Elements of both Romanticism and Gothic movements are present in this short story, making ‘The Black Cat’ a prime example of Gothic Romantic literature. Poe’s use of tone, narration-style, and symbols keeps the reader engulfed in the story, leaving it open to multiple thought-provoking interpretations.

The tone in this short story interesting, and I would like to argue that the use of tone is the best literary device used in this story. At first read, I found this story very disturbing. I was horrified at the crooked working of the narrator’s mind, and yet I found myself also understanding his perspective. I thought the cats must have possessed the narrator, to a point that all the violence against the poor cats felt justified. The tone is set by the narrator, who can fall under the “unreliable narrator” trope, a trope that is also seen in Poe’s short story ‘Tell-Tale Heart’. In this story the reader explores the narrator’s moral downfall, as the 1st person narrator lays out to the reader the events that led him to murder his wife. Words such as ‘brute’, terrified’, ‘tortured’, etc. are dispersed all over the story, creating an altogether dark atmosphere. Since these words were present from the very beginning, the eventual change of the narrator’s moral character seemed natural and slow to me. This however, I found especially startling later, upon reading different interpretations of the story. It was stupefying to see myself to even empathize to extent with the narrator, even after the sinister turn of events. The trick that the writer used to create this effect, was: Romanticism. When the story begins, the narrator seems melancholic about a past when he “was noted for (his)… docility and humanity”. This style of writing, where a past is often idealized is a quality of Romantic literature. However, because of the dark tone in the story, we can say that The Black Cat’s genre falls under the subgenre of Gothic/ Dark Romanticism. Ira Mark Milne1 describes Dark Romanticism as “characters (are) struggling to keep up with their emotions (and) escape from the true reality of life” ­ (Vol. 2: 705–743). In ‘The Black Cat’ Edgar Allan Poe does leave such a delicate effect. By crafting a story where each and every word brings effect to his story, Poe tricks readers like me to think that the narrator’s words are logical. David Lodge2 in his book “The Art of Fiction” also examines Edgar Allan Poe’s narration style and concludes that Poe is indeed cunning; he uses the narrator’s voice to complicate the response from us readers who are outside the text. We do not know if we want to trust the narrator, and even when we do; like I did, we soon become more skeptical through a second reading. It is because of all of this that I think the tone used is the best literary device in this story.

The second captivating thing about this literary piece is its underlying symbolism. The cats, and the violence inflicted on them, the unburnt “compartment … that rested above’” the narrator’s head, all have hidden meanings. First of all, I was especially fascinated when under inspection I found the fact that the cat was named after the Roman god of death: Pluto. This brings an ominous effect about the story, which is in other words, is as I mentioned, fascinating. The second mentionable symbolism lies in the carving out of Pluto’s eye. When the narrator does that, it is symbolic to his blinding himself; from that point forward the narrator’s ethical standpoint is broken forever. Lastly, Poe paints a picture of horror and mystery when the narrator’s entire home is burnt down to ashes, and only one compartment with a “gigantic figure” of a cat remains. This might have suggested the durability of the narrator’s remorse, or hatred for the cat. This short story would not have been the same without this use of symbols, and I greatly enjoyed spotting them while reading the story.

Just like any form of art, Poe’s work also welcomes different interpretations. As I mentioned before, my first interpretation was at face value. Even though I adore felines, and the descriptions of the violence on the cats did annoy me, they somehow still seemed justified at first read. However, when we keep in mind that the person narrating has committed murder, and is an alcoholic, we can establish the fact that the narrator is completely unreliable. And when I read the story from that perspective, I found it deeply upsetting, where the descriptions by Poe bring out only anger me. There are however, even bigger claims in terms of interpretation of this story. In her paper “Household Horror: Domestic Masculinity in Poe’s The Black Cat.”, Ann V. Bliss3 analyses The Black Cat through the lens of the narrator’s struggle with masculinity’. She argues that the narrator’s affection towards animals, and being gentle throughout his early days was feminine, and the eventual killing of the narrator’s wife was his most excessive masculine act. Another controversial claim can be made that in the short saying that the cat was actually a black man, and this story was about a love affair between a white man and men of color who met at a bar. This argument is put forward by A. George in his online essay4 is that the story was about hom*osexual love at a time when it was forbidden, and slavery was still in practice. Meaning the adopted cats were actually servants, who the narrator had extra marital affairs with.

All these responses to this famous short story are overwhelming and are very logical in their debate, thus making Poe successful as a writer by bringing so much discussion over his short story. While this short story is definitely disturbing, ominous in its tone and mysterious in its symbolism, it is these very attributes that make it one of the greatest Gothic Romantic pieces of literature. “The Black Cat” inspired many adaptations in film and also a few artists and illustrations; one of my favorite Art-Nouveau illustrators, Beardsley5, in fact drew a haunting illustration for this very short story. It is evident that Poe left a mark in literature since this short story is still relevant today, represented both in media, and in educational institutions, two centuries after it was first published.

Reference list:

1. Milne, I. M. (1999) Short stories for Students Vol 7, MI, Detroit: Gale Group

2. Lodge, D. (1994) The Art of Fiction, Penguin Books, Unknown edition

3. Bliss, A. V. (2010) Household Horror: Domestic Masculinity in Poe’s The Black Cat. Retrieved from:

4. George, A. (2019)The Real Meaning Behind Poe’s “The Black Cat” Retrieved from:

5. Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley:

The many interpretations of  Poe’s “The Black Cat”, and an analysis of its narration style (2024)


The many interpretations of Poe’s “The Black Cat”, and an analysis of its narration style? ›

The generated interpretations of the story based on a stylistic analysis are: the narrator suffers from psychosis or moral insanity; the narrator is a psychopath; the story portrays nineteenth- century American domesticity; the story is of supernatural forces.

What is the narrative style of The Black Cat? ›

The events are described by a first-person narrator. He presents the events subjectively, and he is unreliable due to his unstable state of mind. The language is written in a formal style and features little dialogue, relying mainly on narration.

What is the writing style of The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe? ›

This style of writing, where a past is often idealized is a quality of Romantic literature. However, because of the dark tone in the story, we can say that The Black Cat's genre falls under the subgenre of Gothic/ Dark Romanticism.

What type of narration does Edgar Allan Poe use? ›

In many of his stories, Poe uses his main character as a first-person narrator to heighten suspense and draw readers into the character's situation.

What is the analysis of The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe? ›

Edgar Allan Poe's story, “The Black Cat,” is a tale of violence and an internal battle with alcoholism. The narrator starts off loving animals and his wife, but unfortunately turns to alcohol and starts abusing his wife and animals, sparing only a black cat: Pluto.

Is The Black Cat a narrative? ›

'The Black Cat' is told from the perspective of a narrator who, in his own words, does not expect the reader to believe him. He tells the reader up front that he is scheduled to die the following day, but the reader doesn't find out why until the end of the story.

What are the characteristics of the narrator in The Black Cat? ›

The duality of his personality, passionate but temperamental becomes clearer and clearer as he loses patience with his loved ones and commits horrific acts of violence. His guilt affects him hugely, as does his paranoia, superstition and, like many of Poe's characters, vices like alcohol and opium.

What does The Black Cat symbolize? ›

Most of Europe considers the black cat a symbol of bad luck, particularly if one walks across the path in front of a person, which is believed to be an omen of misfortune and death.

Why does Poe use unreliable narrator? ›

By creating these narrators, who are unreliable due to their own faults, often clearly stated within their respective story, Poe is able to force the reader to question the validity of everything within the story.

Why does Edgar Allan Poe use first person narrative? ›

Through the use of the first-person narrative perspective, Poe could not only show the delicacy and richness of the inner activities of "I" in the novel, but also see the different aspects of characterization.

How does Edgar Allan Poe use unreliable narrator? ›

Edgar Allan Poe wrote many stories that featured different types of unreliable narrators. These narrators were essential to Poe's goal of teaching his audience to take more active roles in the stories. Insanity, ulterior motives, and lack of knowledge all contribute to making a narrator unreliable.

What is the theme or message of The Black Cat? ›

Despite Poe's insistence that his stories and poems do not contain morals and are designed solely to produce an effect, “The Black Cat” can be read as a cautionary tale about the dangers of alcoholism. The narrator's descent into alcoholism leads him to commit a series of increasingly wicked deeds.

What are the main themes of The Black Cat Edgar Allan Poe? ›

The main themes in The Black Cat are guilt, madness, and alcohol abuse. Guilt: The narrator is consumed by guilt, which leads him to commit increasingly horrific acts. Madness: The narrator's madness is both a cause and a result of his crimes.

What does the eye symbolize in The Black Cat in Edgar Allen Poe? ›

The eyes can symbolize judgment, persecution, and the action of being observed. Eyes are often described as the window to the soul, and in this story, the black cat is also symbolic of the soul; perhaps the narrator doesn't like what is reflected to him when he sees the cat or the cat sees him.

What is the narrative style of the cat in the rain? ›

Hemingway's writing style in “The Cat in the Rain” is extremely minimalist. Not only is the story only four pages long, but the sentences themselves are short and curt, lacking adjectives, adverbs, and imagery.

Is the narrator in The Black Cat static or dynamic? ›

The narrators character is affected by his alcohol addiction and his feelings of love for all animals changes. The narrator is dynamic because he starts out loving all animals, but when he becomes an alcoholic, he despises his favorite animal, Pluto.

Is the narrator in The Black Cat round or flat? ›

This shows the narrators violent, and temperamental personality. However, the narrator also claims that he loves animals which shows his more sympathetic side. Based on this information it is logical to conclude that the narrator is a round character, because he has a variety of traits.


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