The Black Cat

When Edgar Allan Poe wrote "The Black Cat" in 1843, the word "paranoia" was not in existence. The mental illness of paranoia was not given its name until the twentieth century. What the narrator is suffering from would be called paranoia today. The definition of paranoia is psychosis marked by delusions and irrational decisions. This definition could best be described in the nineteenth century as being superstitious and believing that supernatural powers are affecting our decisions. Superstition and being taken over by the supernatural is a recurring metaphor for paranoia in Poe?s story.
At first, the narrator of the story is very caring and loves animals; being with animals is "one of [his] principal sources of pleasure" (346). The narrator?s favorite pet is his large entirely black cat named Pluto. The narrator?s wife "made frequent allusion[s] to the ancient popular notion" that black cats were associated with bad luck, evil, witches, and the devil. Poe?s protagonist does not accept this superstition. People still associate black cats with bad luck, evil, witches, and the devil, so this foreshadows that something bad will happen in the story. The cat?s name, Pluto, increases the assumption that the narrator will have bad luck. In Greek mythology, Pluto was the god of the dead and ruler of the underground. The symbolism of the cat?s name can be used to show that in some way the cat will be involved with death.
When the narrator returned home after a night of drinking and noticed that Pluto was avoiding him, he went on a search for it. Upon finding and grabbing Pluto, the narrator is bitten in the hand by the cat. Because of this bite, "the fury of a demon instantly possessed" the man, and he "knew [himself] no longer" (347). Since the black cat, associated with evil, bit the narrator, he now has evil inside of him. After this attack, the narrator first shows signs of mental illness. His saying he ?knew himself no longer? and that his soul has "take[n] its flight from [his] body" implies that he is not in control of his body and an outside power, the supernatural, is (347). After the attack, the narrator took out his pocketknife and stabbed the cat in the eye, an irrational decision showing the increasing severity of his illness.
One day the narrator took his cat outside and tied a rope around its neck. He then tied it to a tree and left the cat to die. While engaging in this act of torture, the narrator cried and had remorse for killing the cat. He claims that he hung the cat because it loved him, and because it did not do anything to deserve the punishment. Because of this, the sin that he committed would jeopardize his soul forever. No sane man would do this to an animal that he claimed to love. Again the narrator is not in control of his body and is being controlled by the supernatural and shows signs of mental illness.
Later that night, the narrator is awakened by fire in his house and immediately exited it. All but one wall of the house was destroyed. After the blaze was put out, a large crowd gathered around the remaining wall and were amazed at how a wall in the middle of the house could remain standing after a fire. The narrator approached the wall and thought that he knew what the audience is commenting about. He saw a gigantic cat with a rope around its neck. He is filled with wonder and terror when he saw that the cat is alive. In reality, though, the cat is not alive; the narrator is just having a delusion, which is a symptom of paranoia. He quickly calms his worries about how the cat survived by saying that an onlooker watching the fire must have seen that the cat was tied to the tree and released it. Making oneself believe what is not true is also a sign of paranoia. The cat could not have been alive because it was hung from the tree in the morning, while the fire started late at night. The cat would have been dead by the time an audience would have formed outside of the burning house.
There is significance to the cat?s being seen by the narrator on the wall. The wall symbolizes the Wailing Wall,