Spring 2018

“The Black Cat” (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe


Poetry is the true tool of the philosopher. It alone can penetrate the depths of the human psyche. Neither rational analysis nor geometric calculation will help you explain the narrator of “The Black Cat”. The narrator uses his reason to justify a profoundly disturbing philosophy of "perverseness" which delights in deliberately doing the most evil deeds imaginable to gratify pleasure and defy any divine law.

The Short Story Genre: (a phenomenon of the Romantic age)

    * A deft, intense depiction of a single dramatic action. In an flash, the whole universe is unveiled.

    * “The Black Cat” appeared first in Graham’s Magazine, a publication with a mass market circulation.

    * “The Black Cat” and other Poe stories inspired a new fascination with the criminal masterminds loose in the rapidly expanding cities of the Industrial Revolution. Arthur Conan Doyle would use Poe's model to invent Sherlock Holmes.

Narrative Perspective:

     * Poe also pioneered new literary devices which would be exploited by writers who followed him.

     *The Unreliable Narrator: We are limited to the point of view of someone who might be untruthful for a variety of reasons.

         *The unreliable narrator may be:

    * Openly lying

    * Deliberately omitting important information

    * Distorting the truth

    * Could he/she be repressing the truth or even hallucinating

     * Piecing together the truth requires an imaginative detective who sifts all the information skeptically and searches for slips, omissions or deliberate distortions which might reveal the truth. Look for misplaced emphasis or unusual diction.

     * Poe discovered how useful this literary tool is to provide sub-text. To read Poe well, you must interpret the evidence and construct your own understanding of the narrator.

Creative Writing ala Poe

Write a story using the first person unreliable narrator and the Poe Vocabulary list. Create a diabolical character who, like Poe’s narrator, faces judgment and is taking this opportunity to tell his side of the story.

Poe Vocabulary: