Analysis Pages

Character Analysis in The Black Cat

Protagonist: The protagonist of “The Black Cat” is also the narrator. The character, who remains unnamed, understands the madness of his tale but tells it anyway. His guiding characteristic is his deep-seated rage, exaggerated by alcohol abuse, and violent outbreaks. In a tension which echoes Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the protagonist cannot control his “shadow self,” or violent ulterior persona. This shadow self increasingly prevails in satisfying its desires for drink and violence.

Pluto: The titular black cat is the protagonist’s pet, whom he names “Pluto.” The name is an allusion to the Roman god of the underworld, which gives the cat a deathly demeanour. As the story unfolds, the protagonist’s relationship with Pluto represents his transforming relationship with his own soul. When the protagonist first breaks down under the influence of alcoholic, he cuts out one of Pluto’s eyes. This wound is a figurative splitting of his own soul into light and dark. For the rest of the story, Pluto haunts him as a reminder of this inner wound.

Character Analysis Examples in The Black Cat:

The Black Cat

🔒 7

"My heart beat calmly as that of one who slumbers in innocence. I walked the cellar from end to end...."   (The Black Cat)

Here the narrator falters in his reliability, another such instance in a pattern that develops over the course of the story. Readers can detect a subtle division between the narrator’s subjective reportage—“my heart beat calmly”—and his actions—“I walked the cellar from end to end.” The narrator, clearly frightened in the face of law enforcement, exhibits the compulsive, pacing movements of an anxious person. The story he tells, however, is that of an unmoved spectator. The narrator’s unreliability serves Poe’s larger thematic exploration of the often immense distances between interior conception and external reality.

"The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little...."   (The Black Cat)

Not for the first time in the story, Poe’s language undermines the narrator’s claims on truth and reliability. In this passage, the narrator tries to evince readers of his sense of guiltless ease. Yet the sentence contains the pounding, alliterative phrase “dark deed disturbed,” whose sounds evoke a series of dull but insistent knocks from deep down in the narrator’s psychic cellar. He claims to be undisturbed, but his words tell a different story.

"Having procured mortar, sand, and hair, with every possible precaution, I prepared a plaster..."   (The Black Cat)

The inclusion of “hair” in the narrator’s mix of plaster raises questions about the source of the material. Horsehair plaster is a traditional mortar used in construction. However, the narrator only mentions procuring hair, broadly speaking. It could be that the narrator took the hair from his wife before burying her, a decision that expresses metonymic, or contagious, magic and also reveals the narrator’s characteristic arrogance. By hiding his wife’s corpse behind a wall of her own hair, he leaves his secret somewhat open to discovery—a move he makes again in the story’s conclusion.

"Whenever I sat, it would crouch beneath my chair, or spring upon my knees, covering me with its loathsome caresses...."   (The Black Cat)

The diction Poe employs to describe the cat gives the animal a curiously mechanical quality. To this end, the most significant word is the pronoun “it,” which immediately separates the new cat from Pluto, whom the narrator had referred to as “he” and “him.” The verb “spring,” evoking the movements of coiled metal, bolsters the cat’s lifelessness. Indeed, the narrator suspects the cat has returned from the dead, and Poe’s diction gives readers a subtle window into these suspicions.

"It was a black cat—a very large one—fully as large as Pluto, and closely resembling him in every respect but one...."   (The Black Cat)

It is clear that Pluto has made a return from the dead—a move that should offer little surprise, given his name. The white mark is a symbol for the narrator’s guilt. The precise nature of the mark will be revealed subsequently.

"a disposition not uncongenial with my own...."   (The Black Cat)

The narrator reveals little about his relationship with his wife. The double-negative phrasing he uses here to introduce his dynamic with his wife may indicate a real lack of connection—a truth which will prove important to the story’s events.

"Yet, mad am I not..."   (The Black Cat)

The narrator of "The Black Cat" strongly resembles the narrator of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" in denying that he is mad while at the same time making it clear to the reader that he actually is mad.

Analysis Pages