“The Black Cat” is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. It was first published in the August 19, 1843, edition of The Saturday Evening Post. It is a study of the psychology of guilt, often paired in analysis with Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart“. One of Poe’s darkest tales, “The Black Cat” includes his strongest denouncement of alcohol. The narrator’s perverse actions are brought on by his alcoholism, a “disease” and “fiend” which also destroys his personality.
The story is presented as a first-person narrative using an unreliable narrator. He is a condemned man at the outset of the story. The narrator tells us that from an early age he has loved animals. He and his wife have many pets, including a large black cat named Pluto. This cat is especially fond of the narrator and vice versa. Their mutual friendship lasts for several years, until the narrator becomes an alcoholic. One night, after coming home intoxicated, he believes the cat is avoiding him. When he tries to seize it, the panicked cat bites the narrator, and in a fit of rage, he seizes the animal, pulls a pen-knife from his pocket, and deliberately gouges out the cat’s eye.
From that moment onward, the cat flees in terror at his master’s approach. At first, the narrator is remorseful and regrets his cruelty. “But this feeling soon gave place to irritation. And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of perverseness.” He takes the cat out in the garden one morning and hangs it from a tree, where it dies. That very night, his house mysteriously catches fire, forcing the narrator, his wife and their servant to flee.
The next day, the narrator returns to the ruins of his home to find, imprinted on the single wall that survived the fire, the figure of a gigantic cat, hanging by its neck from a rope.
At first, this image terrifies the narrator, but gradually he determines a logical explanation for it, that someone outside had thrown the dead cat into the bedroom to wake him up during the fire, and begins to miss Pluto. Some time later, he finds a similar cat in a tavern. It is the same size and color as the original and is even missing an eye. The only difference is a large white patch on the animal’s chest. The narrator takes it home, but soon begins to loathe, even fear the creature. After a time, the white patch of fur begins to take shape and, to the narrator, forms the shape of the gallows. Then, one day when the narrator and his wife are visiting the cellar in their new home, the cat gets under its master’s feet and nearly trips him down the stairs. In a fury, the man grabs an axe and tries to kill the cat but is stopped by his wife. Enraged, he kills her with the axe instead. To conceal her body he removes bricks from a protrusion in the wall, places her body there, and repairs the hole. A few days later, when the police show up at the house to investigate the wife’s disappearance, they find nothing and the narrator goes free. The cat, which he intended to kill as well, has also gone missing…
Alphonse Legros made a series of etchings illustrating Baudelaire’s translations of the macabre stories of Poe in 1860-61
Aubrey Beardsley produced the illustrations for a Poe book of stories, published in 1895.
In 1910–11 Futurist artist Gino Severini painted “The Black Cat” in direct reference to Poe’s short story.
Universal Pictures made two films titled The Black Cat, one in 1934, starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, and another in 1941, starring Lugosi and Basil Rathbone. Both films claimed to have been “suggested by” Poe’s story, but neither bears any resemblance to the tale aside from the presence of a black cat. Elements of Poe’s story were, however, used in the 1934 film Maniac.
“The Black Cat” was adapted into a 7-page comic strip in Yellowjack Comics #1 (1944).
Mystery in the Air, a 1947 radio adaptation featured Peter Lorre as the protagonist. In this version, the eye is not gouged out. Instead the cat’s ear is torn.
The middle segment of director Roger Corman’s 1962 anthology film Tales of Terror combines the story of “The Black Cat” with that of another Poe tale, “The Cask of Amontillado.” This version stars Peter Lorre as the main character (given the name Montresor Herringbone) and Vincent Price as Fortunato Luchresi.
In 1966, Harold Hoffman wrote and directed The Black Cat, a lurid US movie, loosely based on the Poe tale.
Creepy Warren Publishing’s horror comic magazine no. 62, published in 1974, featured an adaption of “The Black Cat”.
Director Lucio Fulci’s 1981 film The Black Cat is loosely based on Poe’s tale. The 1990 film Two Evil Eyes presents two Poe tales, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” and “The Black Cat.” The former was written and directed by George A. Romero while the latter was written and directed by Dario Argento. This version stars Harvey Keitel in the lead role.
“The Black Cat”, directed by Stuart Gordon, is the eleventh episode of the second season of the television series Masters of Horror. The plot essentially retells the short story in a semi-autobiographical manner, with Poe himself undergoing a series of events involving a black cat which he used to inspire the story of the same name.
In 1997, a compilation of Poe’s work was released on a double CD entitled Closed on Account of Rabies, with various celebrities lending their voices to the tales. The Black Cat was read by avant-garde performer Diamanda Galás.
“The Black Cat” was adapted and performed with “The Cask of Amontillado” as Poe, Times Two: Twin tales of mystery, murder…and mortar — a double-bill of short, one-man plays written and performed by Greg Oliver Bodine. First produced in NYC at Manhattan Theatre Source in 2007.
In 2011, a computer game, Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat was released.
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