A Character Of The Narrator in The Black Cat

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” is told from the protagonist’s point of view, and it provides an account detailing how he transitioned from a loving and kind man to a one filled with rage, which ultimately drives him to murder his wife. In order to understand the protagonist’s motives behind his onset of rage and eventual committing of murder, one must look more carefully into the depths of the character’s hypothetical mind. Studying Poe’s protagonist from a psychoanalytical standpoint allows the reader to glimpse another layer within the story, looking into motives and explanations rather than simply stated actions in order to determine the author’s underlying meaning.

In the beginning of “The Black Cat,” the protagonist has all of the characteristics of a perfectly pleasant and all-around happy person. He claims to have been a so-called relatively good person since birth, stating that “from my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition” (Poe paragraph 2). He is a self-proclaimed, generally amiable person who happens to hold a great affection for animals and remains this way well into his adulthood. In the early stages of this story, there is no evidence to point to the fact that the protagonist would become a person filled with an intense rage. His personality traits are mild and do not hold a predisposition to anger. He seemingly possesses no motive whatsoever to turn to any type of violence; it follows logically, then, by way of analyzing the character’s psyche, that something must have provoked him to the point of a character change. Upon further research into the matter, it becomes evident that the character is likely suffering from a substance abuse issue.

The protagonist admits to becoming intemperate and angry and even shows shame concerning his disposition when recounting the story that sent him to prison. He admits that his countenance became so awful that he treated his beloved pets and his wife with physical and verbal abuse. Shortly after this admission, the protagonist finally hints at what disease might be ailing him to cause this drastic change in behavior. He refers to the budding addiction by saying that “[his] disease grew upon [him] — for what disease is like Alcohol…” (Poe para 6). Because of this statement and several other mentions of being inebriated, the reader is able to gain the knowledge that the protagonist has a problem with alcoholism or possibly addiction in general. Many studies have been conducted concerning the relationship between alcohol abuse and violence, and more often than not a correlation is present. In a case-crossover study, Ulrika Haggard-Grann, Johan Hallqvist, Niklas Langstrom, and Jette Moller explain the cause for alcohol related violence: the most commonly accepted [mechanism behind alcohol-induced aggression] involves the inhibition of fear (by dampening the stress response)…alcohol and other anxiolytic drugs such as benzodiazepines probably disrupt the individual’s threat detection, causing decreased avoidance and impaired assessment of risk…. (100-101)

Approaching the matter from the viewpoint that the protagonist is an alcoholic, his acts of violence such as abuse, gouging the cat’s eye out, and ultimately killing the cat are more readily explainable. He lacks the ability to see the consequences of his actions, and he lets his emotions swing wildly out of control due to the alcohol that is impairing his brain and, consequently, his judgment.

However, alcohol was not the only factor affecting the protagonist’s brain. Another psychological explanation accounts for the final push that it took for the protagonist to lose himself so entirely that he murders his wife on impulse. Based on evidence in the text, it can be inferred that the protagonist suffers from paranoia after his first bout of violence. Dr. Michael Karson described paranoia as a “way of managing disappointment and frustration” (paragraph 4). Since the story is told in first person from the protagonist’s point of view, it is made obvious that he is frustrated with himself for behaving in a manner that is so unlike what he defined himself as for so long. Paranoia is also often triggered by traumatic events, and the act of killing his beloved cat falls under both traumatic and disappointing. He lost something very important to him because of his own actions and he is disappointed in himself for acting so rashly. Paranoia ate away at his psyche until he was driven to a point where his coping skills were far from positive, leading him to commit murder instead of coping with his anger in a positive manner.

Further evidence for his paranoia can be found later in the story after he hangs his first black cat. A new cat comes into his life, and he begins to have irrational thoughts that the cat is out to get him and is actually a witch. It seems to the reader that the protagonist believes that the new cat has been possessed by the spirit of the old cat and is trying to take revenge on the man. When the protagonist’s house burns down, he perceives a scorch mark above his bed to be shaped like a giant cat, when in reality it most likely was not shaped in any specific manner at all. He believes that the world is constantly pointing to his failure and everything is out to get him, and this is a classic sign of paranoia. Dr. Karson presents a comparison between a healthy mind and a mind that is plagued with paranoia:

Paranoid people differ from you in what they consider an injustice, who they think is to blame, and what steps they think are needed to rectify the situation—but the feelings are the same, even down to the point of not thinking that objects of one’s anger … are fully human. (para 5)

The protagonist was affected so much by the event of killing his first cat that he is no longer able to look at circumstances and others in a rational manner. When his wife prevents him from trying to kill the second cat, his emotions flare out of control, and he sees her no longer as a human being, but effectively as an “enemy,” or an obstacle in his way that he must eliminate. This paranoia, coupled with his alcohol abuse, is what drives the protagonist to sink an axe into his wife’s skull.

Looking carefully into the protagonist in Poe’s “The Black Cat” allows the reader to see the motives behind the his horrendous crimes. It shows the reader that this man was affected by something greatly detrimental to his mental health, in this case, alcohol abuse and paranoia. This story also serves as a good example of what can happen should one become addicted to a substance or what could happen should someone suffer from paranoia and not receive help. Investigating literature with a psychoanalytical outlook helps the world see that there is a reason, whether it be acceptable or not, behind the evil that humankind commits every day. This thought adds a deeper meaning to Poe’s work than is perceived at first glance, and it allows the reader to delve into the true underlying theme which Poe likely meant to convey: the depravity of humanity and its causes.

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