The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:02 Edgar Allan Poe and…
  • 1:05 Plot Summary
  • 4:27 Themes
  • 7:19 Motif
  • 8:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

In this lesson, we will learn about Edgar Allan Poe's short story, 'The Black Cat.' We examine its main events and characters and analyze the themes and motifs in the short story. A quiz follows.

Edgar Allan Poe and 'The Black Cat'

'The Black Cat' is a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was born in 1809, died at the age of 40 in 1849, and was an important contributor to the American Romantic movement. His work has also been described as mystery, macabre, and Gothic.

In addition to writing short stories and poems, Poe also worked as a literary critic. He was married to his cousin for 12 years, until she died of tuberculosis in 1847. Throughout his life, Poe struggled with money. He couldn't afford to go to college, and he gambled and drank excessively.

Poe's short story, 'The Black Cat' was published in 1843 in The Saturday Evening Post. It was popular with readers, but Poe did not receive instant success until he published his famous poem, 'The Raven'. Since its publication, elements of 'The Black Cat' have inspired films, television episodes, paintings, plays, comics, and novels.

Plot Summary of 'The Black Cat'

'The Black Cat' is told from the perspective of an insane narrator who, in his own words, does not expect the reader to believe him. He tells the reader up front that he is scheduled to die the following day, but the reader doesn't find out why until the end of the story.

After setting up his story from this perspective, the man tells the reader about a cat named Pluto he used to have as a pet. He describes Pluto as a remarkably large, beautiful animal, entirely black. The narrator's wife jokes that the cat might be a witch in disguise, given its unusual intelligence. The narrator and Pluto have a close bond. He takes care of Pluto, and Pluto follows him everywhere around the house. It is a very tender relationship.

Then, everything goes wrong. The narrator, an alcoholic, starts getting angry at everyone. He mistreats his wife and their other animals, but he never hurts Pluto. But one night, the narrator comes home drunk and thinks Pluto is avoiding him. He grabs the cat, who bites him. In retaliation, the narrator cuts out one of the cat's eyes.

After he sleeps off his drunken state, the narrator is horrified about his actions. It is not enough to get him to stop drinking, though. The cat's eye socket heals, but Pluto and the narrator no longer have a good relationship. Pluto starts to avoid the narrator all the time. Instead of feeling remorseful, the narrator just feels irritated at the cat's behavior.

The narrator hangs the cat 'in cold blood' from a tree. That night, his house burns down. The narrator, his wife, and their servant all escape the fire unharmed, but the fire destroys his home and all of his possessions. When the narrator returns to the ashes later, he sees the figure of a cat on the only surviving wall.

Months pass. The narrator sees a cat remarkably similar to Pluto, except that on his chest is a white patch. The cat follows him home. At first, the narrator likes the cat, but soon he can't stand the cat at all, especially after he notices that one of its eyes is missing.

The more he hates the cat, the more the cat likes him. The narrator cannot bring himself to hurt the cat because he is afraid of it. The white shape on its chest morphs into a gallows, a direct reminder of his crime against Pluto.

Eventually, the narrator is driven so mad that he tries to kill the cat with an axe. His wife intervenes, and the narrator ends up killing his wife. He decides to conceal the body inside his house, behind the wall of the basement.

The narrator looks for the cat, but it is missing. For three nights, he sleeps undisturbed by the cat. Then, on the fourth day, police come to his house to ask questions about his wife's disappearance. During their investigation, the narrator raps on the wall he has rebuilt to conceal his wife's corpse. The noise of him knocking causes the cat, which had accidentally become sealed inside the wall, to howl, alerting the police to the presence of the narrator's wife.

Analysis: Themes


The exploration of how guilt affects people is a common theme in Poe's short stories, and 'The Black Cat' is no exception. The narrator is consumed by guilt about what he's done. He does not seem to fully realize the amount of his guilt, insisting that he is not bothered by what he has done, but his guilt manifests in subconscious ways. He sees a vision of a cat in a noose in the ruined remains of his burned down house.

Guilt also causes him to knock on the exact part of the wall that he buried his wife behind, which causes the trapped cat to cry out and alert the police to the presence of the narrator's wife's corpse. If the narrator was not feeling guilty about murdering his wife, he would have kept his cool when the police were searching his house and possibly gotten away with her murder.


There are multiple transformations that occur in this short story. The biggest one is the narrator's transformation via alcohol from a family man who loves his wife and pets to a moody maniac who cuts out his cat's eye, hangs his cat, and eventually murders his wife. This transformation is psychological and the result of the narrator's addiction to alcohol.

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