Unreliable Narrator in “The Black Cat” by Poe Essay (Critical Writing)

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Oct 17th, 2020


A narrator or writer converses with target readers and audiences through their art. They publish and offer work that best fits, or that is appealing to their target viewers. To write effectively, one needs to understand situations, the problems that may arise in the writing, as well as the strategies that should be used to achieve the intended effect. A critical reader should determine the strategies used by writers and their intended effects. These give them the power to determine the reliability of these writers or narrators (Field, 395). Being the creative mind behind a story, a writer/narrator needs a flowing plot. They should know what their characters are thinking.

What makes to think this is an unreliable narrator?

An unreliable narrator/writer arises when the quality of acceptance and the power to elicit belief is seriously compromised. Unreliable narration can be used to create suspense, but then again it can mislead the reader. The nature of a writer or narrator is distinguished sometimes almost immediately. From a narrative mode, most often, the first-person narrators are usually unreliable (Andriopoulos 841). In The Black Cat, which is narrated in the first-person narrative mode, the writer/narrator’s credibility raises suspicion. The narrator starts with a confession to prove his sanity, but from reading, a reader/listener has to question the peculiar personality of the narrator. Poe (45) depicts the extremity of the narrator from the unconditional affection. For instance, he shows hatred to his pets in the beginning but changes his attitude towards the same pets in his present narration. This raises suspicion. The irrationality of the narrator is depicted in his hatred for the cat Pluto, with no particular reason. Moreover, he goes to the extent of gouging out his eye when the cat scratches him out of fear (Poe 4). The narrator also presents his work with contradicting statements. This is confirmed by his explanation that he killed the cat due to the hatred that grew in him after the cat bit him. He later claims that he killed it due to the fact that the cat loved him.

When does the reader start to question the validity of the narrator’s point-of-view?

The concealment of information by the narrator from the audience shows that he is an unreliable narrator. A lot of information is withheld in this story. For example, he chooses to remain without a name or age. He also mentions that he married early, before reaching the appropriate age for marriage. The “emptiness” of his narration also leaves readers to question the validity of his point of view. For instance, he mentions that the policemen came to investigate his house, and instinctively went to the cellar where they conducted a thorough search. Here, a reader is left wondering why the police came. The other questions that one can ask include why they decided to check the cellar several times, and why the narrator begins by explaining the architectural merits of the house and the strength of the walls. The twist brought forth by the writer, when he finds out why he has not been disturbed by the cat after he kills his wife, is also questionable (Poe 7).

How does the reading experience change or become more complex when the reader begins to view the narrator as a liar or as an unreliable source of information?

The onset of suspicion of the unreliability of the narrator presents a new experience for readers, giving them a complexity in their reading. After a reader establishes a narrator as unreliable, a further reading with this type of narrator presents the reader with the difficulty of having to “read in between the lines” because he/she is convinced that the narrator is either misreporting events or is just choosing to lie. The reader is faced with a constant task of trying to feel in, the gaps in his mind about what the narrator might or should have said. The unreliable narrator creates a distance between the values and norms of readers, leaving them with another task of adjusting and apprehending in their minds, the new dimensions. This is confirmed when the narrator decides to justify his heinous acts of gorging out the cat’s eye and saying that his soul is untouched (Poe 7 & 8). Under normal circumstances, the narrator is expected to feel guilty and regretful because of such an act. This raises the question of the sanity of the narrator and further depicts him as an unreliable narrator.


In conclusion, it is clear that the unreliable narrator leaves the audience to wonder about the level they should trust him, and how they can interpret the story. The fact that there is room to interpret the story in as many ways as possible affirms that the narrator is unreliable. This style can be effectively used to hold and attract the interest of the audience. However, he should open up to them, what he wants to put forward.

Works Cited

Andriopoulos, Constantine. “Determinants of organisational creativity: a literature review.” Management Decision 39.10 (2001): 834-841. Print.

Field, Patrick. “The Unreliable Narrator?” Negotiation Journal 27.3 (2011): 387-395. Print.

Poe, Edgar Allan. The black cat. Australia. United Holdings Group, 1984. Print.

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