I’m sure we all have broken a rule for the sake of knowing we shouldn’t. Face it. When someone tells you not to press the red button, you really want to press it because you are not supposed to. One can even see this in history; when Prohibition began, the sale of alcohol increased along with the development of speakeasies and boot legging. Why would this happen? People were breaking the law because it was the law, and they were enjoying themselves in the process. Of course, they wanted to see if they could get away with the crime as well. According to the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” we all have a bit of this “perverseness.” This flaw in the narrator’s life is what led him down a destructive path which ultimately ended in the death of his beloved cat and wife. Beginning with his alcoholic problem, readers follow the journey of a madman who follows through with the evil side of himself. For instance, he knew he should not drink because he turned into a completely different person, possessed by “the fury of a demon,” yet he continued to do so anyway. The narrator shows readers that this way of life exists in all of us. What we as readers need to recognize from this story is we should never use the “spirit of perverseness” as an excuse to live poorly and commit foul crimes. When we act against our own morals and commit to the malevolent side of ourselves, the consequences can come back to haunt us.
Pluto, the narrator’s cat, is the symbol of the ultimate irony. Named after the ancient God of the Underworld, he represents a human’s “Spirit of Perverseness,” acting against one’s morals simply because he knows he should not. The narrator’s problems begin in this story because of his perverseness. He addresses the readers when he asks, “Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it to be such?” He killed Pluto because he knew that it had loved him. “…I felt it had given me no reason of offence; — hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin — a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it — if such a thing were possible — even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.” The narrator finds himself struggling with elements of this spirit and subconscious guilt; in his rage, he buries an axe in his wife’s head and entombs her behind a wall in the basement. The guilt is the factor that leads him to purposely reveal the location of his wife’s corpse and condemn him to the gallows.
Something that strikes readers as they read the story is Poe’s way of writing. He is so formal in his narrative that readers think absolutely nothing is wrong. His elevated word choice gives the readers a sense of peace. Claiming his sanity in the beginning, the narrator never alarms the reader as he explains his “docility and humanity” of his disposition. The narrator does not appear to be crazy, and readers have nothing to worry about. With Poe’s superior language, readers gather the narrator is an intelligent man who has simply “lost it” a little because of his drinking problem. Although his over- indulgence contributes to the problem, I think it safe to concur that there are a few screws loose in the narrator’s mind as the story progresses.
The narrator’s nonchalance over the whole situation is astounding. Here is a man who killed his dearly loved wife and cat (not to mention his abuse before he actually committed the murders), and he only relays the story as a series of “mere household events.” In fact, he convinces himself they are “nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.” What happened in the narrator’s life was anything but natural. For instance, after he hangs Pluto, his house suddenly catches on fire, destroying all of his worldly wealth. Despite his wife’s superstition that all black cats are witches in disguise, the narrator refuses to believe his cruel misdeed had any significance in the circumstances. The narrator still lives in his disbelief after he goes back to the scene of destruction to find an image of Pluto with a noose around his neck engraved upon the only standing wall. After a long reflection, the narrator believed this image became engraved on the wall when a person found the carcass hanging from the tree in the garden, removed it from the tree, and threw it through his window in hopes to alarm him of the fire. The falling walls compressed Pluto into the fresh plaster, and the combination of lime, flames, and ammonia from the carcass created the image. Now, please tell me. Could that ever logically happen? No. Definitely not. His actions are literally coming back to haunt him, and the narrator blatantly ignores the signs.
Luckily, many of us are smart enough not to press the red button. Unlike the narrator, we do our best to evade the evil side of ourselves. Although most people of the Prohibition era got away with the crimes, the narrator does not for his subconscious guilt gives him away. Because the narrator chose to act against his own morality, he was haunted by his actions. He had at one point loved Pluto and really did love his wife, yet he chose to violate his own feelings. I hope we as readers know what may happen if we follow the hidden “spirit” in our souls. Poe does a wonderful job of showing readers that if we act against our morals and choose to follow through with the evil side of ourselves, our actions will come back to haunt us.