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Historical Context in The Black Cat

Historical Context Examples in The Black Cat:

The Black Cat

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"as the monks of the middle ages are recorded to have walled up their victims...."   (The Black Cat)

This is an allusion to the practice of “immurement,” the penitential walling up of wrongdoers. In the Middle Ages, Catholic monastic orders used immurement as a standard punishment for monks and nuns who had broken their vows of chastity. In less extreme cases, the offender was walled into a solitary room, occasionally fed, and later released. In draconian cases, the offender was sealed in permanently, eventually dying of starvation or thirst. Poe was evidently intrigued by immurement, using it in both this story and “The Cask of Amontillado”.

"I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause and effect, between the disaster and the atrocity...."   (The Black Cat)

It is fascinating that Poe has his narrator question cause and effect. The influential 18th-century philosopher David Hume postulated that causality is an illusion, that we have no way of connecting actions to consequences. The narrator seems to be drawing on Hume’s body of thought here, questioning whether the events in the story represent a causal chain. The irony, of course, is that all fiction is built on causality, even if reality does not.

"Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart—one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man...."   (The Black Cat)

Poe deepens the theme of dualism here, fleshing out the idea that the narrator’s wickedness is not an aberration but rather a manifestation of his core nature. One wonders whether this theme was of particular importance to Victorian-era writers, Poe and Stevenson included. By many historical accounts, the Victorian Age in England and the United States was defined by a culture of civility and repression.

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