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Irony in The Black Cat

Irony Examples in The Black Cat:

The Black Cat

🔒 3

"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.

"buried the axe in her brain...."   (The Black Cat)

Poe’s verb choice—to “bury” the axe—is interesting on several accounts. The verb carries a connotation of the burial of a body, an imminent event in the story’s plot. The combination of “buried” and “brain” in the same phrase—with those repeated b and r sounds—has an appealing poetry to it. Finally, the phrase brings to mind the idiom of “burying the hatchet,” a 17th-century American saying that indicates a truce, or peace-making. Poe may have intended this final meaning in an ironic sense.

"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.

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