Guilt and remorse are emotions that are often experienced by humans in general, and the emotional and physical response to these emotions can be very powerful and misleading. In “the Black Cat”, Edgar Allen Poe spins a wondrously horrific plot that consists of a quilt deranged man driven to persecute the object of his offense. The man’s ruthless compulsion to ease his guilt through destructive means leads ultimately to his own demise.
The murder of Pluto, the appearance of the second black cat, and the ruthless slaying of an innocent woman are the series of significant events that are interweaved to create Poe’s bloodcurdling tale. Overwhelming and demented feelings of guilt compulsively drive the narrator of the story to brutally slay his companion cat. After the man removes Pluto’s eye with a knife, he is remorseful, but his feeling of guilt quickly manifests itself as irritation (para. 9). The cat’s fear of the man is a constant reminder of the horrible deed that he has performed, and he begins to project his hatred of self onto his disfigured cat.
As his notions of remorse further deteriorate his unsound mind, he destroys the object and source of his offense. With guilt eating away at his conscious, the man’s sanity falls further into degradation, and he unleashes his cruelty on an innocent victim. The narrator describes the force of destruction that drives him as “the spirit of Perverseness”, and this impulse causes him to remorsefully hang the cat because he knows that it loves him and it is an act he should not commit (para. . The appearance of the second black cat casts a spellbinding power over an already guilt sickened mind. At first the narrator is very pleased by the affection bestowed upon him by the second cat, but little by little he begins to dread and loathe its mere presence (para 16-17). In the beginning, the affection of the new animal eases the man’s tormented conscious, but eventually its presence begins to serve only as a reminder of the horrors that he inflicted on Pluto.
Underlying feelings of guilt caused by the hideous crime committed against Pluto, obviously surface and erode the narrators thoughts and reasoning power. In his mind, guilt diseased thoughts begin to shape the undefined white markings around the animals neck into the definite shape of a noose, and the man’s fear of the cat prevents him from harming the creature (para. 20). Finally, driven to the brink of insanity by the pressure of immense guilt, the narrator brutally murders his innocent wife.
Tormented by his feelings of repulsion for the cat, the man succumbs to his rage and attempts to take its life, but his wife interferes and is rewarded with the burying of an axe in her head (para. 23). Guilt has finally taken a sick man and turned him into a complete monster. Once again the man attempts to alleviate his guilt by concealing the object of his offense, however his attempts are foiled when he raps on the brick wall that contains his wife’s corpse (para. 22).
The narrator gives us the following description of the reply to his rapping on the wall: “I was answered by a voice from within the tomb! – by a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman – a howl – a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the damned in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation” (para. ).
The narrators description of the cat’s cries can be likened to the wailing sound of the guilt in his own conscious. Guilt is an overpowering emotion that can twist the souls of those who are afflicted by its presence. The ultimate demise of the narrator of the story is brought about by his initial attempt to conceal his feelings of guilt. In “The Black Cat”, Poe’s use of the powerful convictions of guilt and remorse weave an intricate and terrifying plot.