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Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat

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When Edgar Allan Poe wrote “The Black Cat” in 1843, the word “paranoia” was not in existence. The mental illness of paranoia was not given its name until the twentieth century. What the narrator is suffering from would be called paranoia today. The definition of paranoia is psychosis marked by delusions and irrational decisions. This definition could best be described in the nineteenth century as being superstitious and believing that supernatural powers are affecting our decisions. Superstition and being taken over by the supernatural is a recurring metaphor for paranoia in Poe’s story.
At first, the narrator of the story is very caring and loves animals; being with animals is “one of [his] principal sources of pleasure” (346). The narrator’s favorite pet is his large entirely black cat named Pluto. The narrator’s wife “made frequent allusion[s] to the ancient popular notion” that black cats were associated with bad luck, evil, witches, and the devil. Poe’s protagonist does not accept this superstition. People still associate black cats with bad luck, evil, witches, and the devil, so this foreshadows that something bad will happen in the story. The cat’s name, Pluto, increases the assumption that the narrator will have bad luck. In Greek mythology, Pluto was the god of the dead and ruler of the underground. The symbolism of the cat’s name can be used to show that in some way the cat will be involved with death.
When the narrator returned home after a night of drinking and noticed that Pluto was avoiding him, he went on a search for it. Upon finding and grabbing Pluto, the narrator is bitten in the hand by the cat. Because of this bite, “the fury of a demon instantly possessed” the man, and he “knew [himself] no longer” (347). Since the black cat, associated with evil, bit the narrator, he now has evil inside of him. After this attack, the narrator first shows signs of mental illness. His saying he ‘knew himself no longer’ and that his soul has “take[n] its flight from [his] body” implies that he is not in control of his body and an outside power, the supernatural, is (347). After the attack, the narrator took out his pocketknife and stabbed the cat in the eye, an irrational decision showing the increasing severity of his illness.
One day the narrator took his cat o...

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...l. A fiend is another name for the devil.
As said before, the black and white color of the new cat foreshadowed that the cat will cause something evil to happen and some form of justice will prevail. The narrator claims that the cat was screaming when he tapped on the wall with his cane. The cat did not actually scream. The guilt of the narrator’s crimes finally caused him to confess to what he has done. The narrator heavily knocked on the wall with his cane to show the detectives where the body is. The narrator’s crime was then discovered.
In Poe’s “The Black Cat” recurring actions and symbols show that the narrator is suffering from what is known today as paranoia. Superstition and the supernatural are words that can be seen as a metaphor for paranoia. The narrator becomes superstitious and is controlled by the cat. Throughout the story, the narrator shows common signs of paranoia, such as delusions, irrational actions, and high amounts of anger.

Works Cited

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Black Cat.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. PaulLauter. Lexington, Massachusetts: DC Heath and Company, 1990. 346-353.
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