Use of a Symbol in “The Black Cat”

Edgar Allan Poe, like most talented authors, writes stories which can be interpreted on many different levels. This is done through many literary devices, including an extensive use of symbolism. In his work “The Black Cat,” symbolism takes center stage. The unnamed main character is a man of many emotions and complexities. One of these complexities is his nagging conscience, which dogs him relentlessly about his numerous abuses and sins. Poe personifies this all-important element in the main character’s pet cat. This link between cat and conscience may not be easily perceptible at first. However, the symbolism is easy to see by examining specific aspects of the story.

From early on in the story the cat is made to be the symbol of the man’s conscience. The character’s anger and violence against his wife and his pets is something he does not like to think about. However, it is not possible for him to forget the atrocities he has committed when he sees his eyeless cat. “I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty....” Afterwards, he only starts drinking more drown the guilt that he has been reminded of in his cat. In an attempt to silence the emotions, he hangs the cat. But what is the result of this action? His conscience comes back in the form of an outline on his charred wall–and soon in the form of another cat. The next cat has the exact same effect. “A certain sense of shame, and the remembrance of my former deed of cruelty....” When he attempts to avoid this incarnation of his conscience, it only begins to follow him more closely. He then states his dread of the beast, because of the feelings of guilt and shame it brings him. He is so restless and crazed by his conscience’s unending torment that he kills his wife.

After he hides the body of his wife and is seemingly free of the cat, he feels great relief. However, Poe shows that one can never be free of one’s conscience with the ironic ending of the story. This is more than a tale of a man and his cat. It is a story which describes the dangers of alcoholism and not being honest with one’s self. Poe uses the cat throughout the story to point out how important it is to come to terms with one’s conscience.

node your homework!
Mrs. Jayne M. C. Buono
English 101
Cochise College

The Black Cat, also called Le Chat Noir, is an excellent French restaurant in Bellingham, Washington, USA. Located on the third floor of a century-old building in the historic Fairhaven district, The Black Cat has a wonderful old-world atmosphere, cool (gothy!) waiters, good taste in background music, and a smoking section that permits clove cigarettes. There's even a beautiful view of Bellingham Bay, and every table has a window seat. The bar is well-stocked, though rather expensive. If you visit The Black Cat, have some Ravenswood Zinfandel with the Steak Manhattan or the Baked Gouda Chicken.

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