The Humanisation of Animals in Edgar Allan Poe’s works
“The Black Cat” by Edgar Allen Poe is a morbid story about the change the narrator undergoes and the gruesome and disturbing nature of his behaviors. Through the narrator’s development in the story, his behavior can be investigated by using an aspect Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, the Id, Ego, and Superego.
In Poe’s short story, “The Black Cat”, the narrator’s character discovers a love for animals at a very young age. Throughout the characters development, he starts to drink more, and the visible change that is seen in the animals, except for a black cat, is tremendous. The narrator clearly has a love and passion for all his animals, especially a black cat named “Pluto”, but due to his rapid decline to alcoholism, the character’s love instinct for animals becomes an aggression instinct.
The Id is the most inaccessible part of the brain. It is buried in the unconscious state of mind and is responsible for humans most primal instincts. Sigmund Freud states the Id’s work as, “basic urges, needs, and desires”. The id responds to using instinctual desires, that are hard to control on most times and lead to what Freud states the id pertains to sexual desires and instincts, and instincts of aggression, which acts a pro-dominant instinct in the story. On a drunken night, when the narrator comes back from the from the inn, Pluto finally notices the change that has come about his owner and is “trying to stay out of my way, to avoid me”. The narrators character becomes angered by the reaction of the animal and his id takes control of him. “My soul seemed to fly from my body”. The gruesome nature of the id takes over and the aggression instinct comes to play when the narrator takes the cat and cuts one of its eyes out. The narrator’s aggression towards Pluto is evidence that his love towards animals at such a young age has changed in which he finds pleasure in torturing animals.
The ego is a mediation device used to work as reasoning, compared to id’s primal instinct and destructive nature. The ego makes up most of the conscious decision making in a reality standpoint. The first ego-characteristic the narrator shows is after Pluto’s eye starts to recover. The narrator feels a guilt toward cutting out the cat’s eye, saying, “I felt growing inside me a new feeling. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself doing wrong, doing some evil thing for no other reason than because he knows he should not?”. He feels a guilt toward the cat whom he had once love, and who had once loved him back. The narrator’s character’s id and ego both show when he decides he must kill the cat because, “I hung it because I knew it had loved me”.His aggressive nature that comes from the id, is counterbalanced by his ego, in which he realizes that what he is doing is wrong and is “a sin so deadly”, however because the superego is not present to stop the ids disturbing nature, the narrator’s character continues to hang the cat. In the same night, he is awoken to the cries of his neighbors, who are screaming about a fire. The whole time he can only think about the cat that he has hung in the cellar, and if this was some sort of mysterious message. Yet again, on another drunken night, he sees a black cat, almost like Pluto, and wants to buy the cat from the Innkeeper. The Innkeeper tells him that the he has never seen the cat before, and from there, the cat starts following him. His remorse for the death of Pluto that is brought out in the form of his ego, makes him want this cat, “It soon became a pet of both my wife and myself” . As the cat starts to follow him around more, the narrator’s id takes control once again. Instead of the love of the cat following him, he becomes angry and enraged, leading to the fate of the second cat. The narrator uses his ego in remorse for Pluto, however his id has stepped in again. The superego is the part of the conscious that is stored between each layer of Sigmund Freuds iceberg. It is the component of personalities that traits are acquired from through parents or someone of higher power that is being looked upon. The superego works to subside the primal urges of the id, and tries to make the ego work at a moral standpoint in comparison to a realistic standpoint. As a child, the narrator “had a natural goodness of soul”. This is the superego, which comes into play when he learns his love for animals. The natural goodness of the superego however become far overruled by the gruesome nature of the id. No matter the guilt that the narrator feels toward the torture and killing of Pluto, in which he remembers his childhood love of animals, the superego becomes present since it is battling the urges of the id. The id, however, far exceeds the ego and superego that are working to oppress the aggressive nature that narrator has. The id’s aggressive nature that takes over the narrator’s character as he starts falling into alcoholism.
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