Crime and Guilt
Have you ever done something that you knew you weren’t allowed to do, but did it anyways because you knew it was wrong? Have you ever felt guilty about what you did? If so, you would be able to easily relate to a detailed confession about a chain of events, written by Edgar Allan Poe, but narrated by a criminal himself. The Black Cat is a short story written by Poe, who was born in 1809, almost as an orphan.
His life and personality are reflected well in his writings, including this one, as Poe was a tormented man, a drug addict, sadomasochist, dipsomaniac, and manic depressive. The story is mainly about a “mad” man who wants to murder his pet, a black cat, but his regrets eventually force him to reveal himself as a killer. One of the key themes that Poe is expressing in this short story is that one may give in, or succumb to, the savage, primitive impulses of his/her heart, but in the end, the person may have to face the consequences of the action. Poe uses a thorough demonstration of the psychology of an unhappy murderer in order to support his theme in crime, guilt, and violence. Additionally, the narrator’s minute thoughts on his own actions prove this to be true.
In his short story, Poe shows his readers the effects of guilt in ones feelings, as well as in the choices that the person makes, through the emotions expressed by the narrator after he cuts out one of the eyes of his cat, Pluto. This is because the memories of one’s acts of infamy may keep tormenting his/her soul until the person decides to relieve him/herself of the burden. For example, the narrator says, “But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul… In their consequences, these events have terrified—have tortured—have destroyed me.” “I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife…grasped the poor beast [Pluto] by throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder while I pen the damnable atrocity.” These two quotes directly from the story show that the excruciating, burning regret was what brought the narrator to write this “most wild, yet most homely narrative” in the first place.
He feels so sorry for what he had done that he even feels quite compassionate for Pluto, whom he rather disliked. Through this part where the narrator’s great remorse is expressed, Poe highlights the importance of such repentance in one’s life. Yet all these tender feelings, such as a tiny bit of compassion for his now one-eyed cat, Pluto, occurs much, much, afterwards. By the time he cuts out one of Pluto’s eyes, the narrator is somewhat irritated by the fact that the cat is now constantly avoiding him and probably blaming him for what happened to his eye. Consequently, the narrator declares that “perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart—one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man,” and further claims that therefore, “do[ing] wrong for the wrong’s sake only” was what “urged me [the narrator] to continue and finally consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute.
” And one morning, the narrator hangs his own beloved pet. He apparently has no specific purpose or a motive for committing such a murder; he simply does it just “for the wrong’s sake only.”—”…I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree, —hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart;—hung it because I knew it had loved me…” This quote shows that even while the narrator commits a crime, he is weeping for his wrong deed, because he knew it was wrong, and for his “spirit of perverseness”, because he knew it was sinful. And yet, he doesn’t even attempt to stop himself, thinking that he had better end the injury that he had already inflicted upon the cat, knowing all about the sorrow and other consequences that will hunt him at always. Through Poe’s detailed description of the mind of a criminal, one sees the psychological aspect of a crime and its devastating after effects—remorse. After the murders of the second black cat (who was originally brought to the narrator’s house for resembling Pluto, whom he terribly missed after its death) and his intimate wife, he states himself to be undeniably calm and happy, for he no longer has to bear the sight of the ‘frightful monster.
‘ “I should behold it no more! My happiness was Supreme! … I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept, even with the burden of murder upon my soul.” However, his soul yet seems to be extremely guilty as to give away the hidden truth, ‘unintentionally.
‘ For when the police come, the narrator, “[in the rabid desire to say something easily, I scarcely knew what I uttered at all,]… rapped heavily…upon that very portion of the brick-work behind which stood the location of the concealed dead corpse.” This is the evidence that shows how the narrator discloses himself (without intending to) as the killer, because his soul couldn’t really contradict itself any longer. Overall, although people may not acknowledge their feeling guilty of something, they may actually be hunted by the memories, which might lead to the self confession. All in all, The Black Cat proves itself to be the perfect example of the devastating effects of repentance in one’s life. In fact, one might find him/herself to be in similar situations as the narrator, where a guilty conscience is the only way out. Facing the consequences of one’s actions can be difficult, but in life, it is important that the person is made aware of his/her own mistakes so that one can learn a lesson from the past.