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BlackCat

1894 illustration for "The Black Cat" by Aubrey Beardsley.

"The Black Cat" is a short story by the American horror author Edgar Allan Poe. It was first published in 1843 in the edition of The Saturday Evening Post magazine which was dated August 19 of that year.

The story concerns a man who becomes increasingly cruel. He deliberately mistreats the pets which he once loved and abuses his wife both verbally and physically, eventually killing her. He attempts to cover up the murder by bricking his wife's body up behind a wall in the cellar of the building in which he lives. He almost gets away with his crime but, when he mockingly leads the police to the brick wall behind which his wife's body is hidden, an unexpected sound from behind the wall reveals the truth of what he has done.

Plot

The story's main character and its narrator is a prisoner who is awaiting execution for the murder of his wife.

The narrator is initially a very kind and gentle person who is especially fond of animals. As a child, he has numerous pets. His fondness for animals only increases as he gets older and his wife also buys various pets for him. He owns goldfish, rabbits, a monkey and a dog but his favorite pet of all is a large black cat named Pluto. The cat constantly follows him and he allows nobody else to feed it.

The man's character starts to change for the worse when he begins drinking heavily. He often insults his wife and becomes physically abusive towards her. He neglects his pets and even attacks the dog, the monkey and the rabbits whenever he sees them. However, he retains some fondness for Pluto and does no physical harm to the cat.

The Black Cat (Severini)

The Black Cat a 1911 painting by Gino Severini, inspired by Poe's story. The painting is now in the National Gallery of Canada.

One evening, the narrator comes home very drunk. He gets the impression that Pluto is avoiding him and angrily grabs the animal. When Pluto bites him, he punishes the cat by using a pen knife to cut out one of its eyes. The cat eventually recovers from its injury but always avoids the man afterwards. Some time later, acting out of a "spirit of perverseness" and doing it simply because he knows that it is wrong, the man kills Pluto by hanging him from the limb of a tree in his garden.

On the evening of the day on which he killed Pluto, there is a fire at the man's house. The house and all of its contents are almost completely destroyed. When the man goes to examine the ruins of the house on  the following day, he finds that only one wall is still standing. On that wall, there is a mark which looks like a gigantic cat with a rope around its neck. Although the man is able to come up with a logical explanation as to how the image appeared, he is troubled by it for some time.

The man comes to miss Pluto and feel "something that seemed, but was not remorse". He begins to look for a replacement black cat. He finds one in a bar. The cat looks almost exactly like Pluto except that it has white hairs on its chest. The cat does not appear to belong to anyone and follows the man home. It soon makes itself comfortable there and the man's wife quickly becomes very fond of it. The man, however, soon comes to hate and even fear the animal. On the morning after the cat first came to his home, the man notices that it, like Pluto, only has one eye. The white hairs on the animal's chest also begin to form a distinct shape; that of the gallows. The man tries to avoid the cat but it constantly follows him and sits on his lap at every opportunity. At night, he awakes from bad dreams to find the cat sitting on his chest. As a result, the man gets no rest and only becomes angrier and more violent. His wife constantly suffers from his abuse.

Poe black cat byam shaw

1909 illustration for "The Black Cat" by Byam Shaw.

One day, the man and his wife need to go down to the cellar of the building in which they live. The man is almost tripped up by the cat as he goes down the stairs. He tries to strike the animal but his wife prevents him. In fury, he murders his wife. Faced with the problem of how to dispose of her body, he decides that it would not be difficult to wall her up in the cellar and afterwards make the wall look exactly as it had done before. Having completed the task, the man looks for the cat, intending to kill it, but cannot find it. Believing that the animal has fled in fear, the man finally finds rest, even though he is guilty of murder.

Four days after the crime took place, some police officers come to the building where the man lives. They make a thorough search, going down to the cellar several times, but find nothing. The man feels like gloating over the fact that he has escaped punishment for his crime. As the police officers are about to leave, he begins talking about how well built the house is. As if to demonstrate the solidness of the walls, he taps one with a cane. It is the wall behind which his wife's body is hidden. In response to the tapping on the wall, a sound comes from behind it. At first, it sounds like a baby's cry but then changes into a scream "half of horror and half of triumph". The police officers immediately begin to tear down the wall and find the woman's body. The black cat is sitting on her head. The man realizes that he accidentally bricked up the cat along with his victim and that its cries have sentenced him to death.

See also

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