Edgar Allan Poe & His Works and Narration
Edgar Allan Poe, who is popular for his gothic stories, is known as one of the best user of “ Unreliable Narrator ” thanks to his famous stories which have a first person narrator. “The Black Cat” was published in 1843 in the Saturday Evening Post which is one of Poe’ s best narratives.(Misiak, Black Cat) Edgar Allan Poe ‘s use of the first person narrator is effective as it can be seen in “The Black Cat”. “The Black Cat” is a story narrated by an anonymous protagonist who is the killer of the story. The fact that the narrator is the killer, he tells the story from his own perspective; this leads us to question the trustworthiness of his narrative; because the first person narrative is the narrative in which the reader can be manipulated by the narrator himself.
Brief Summary of “The Black Cat”
From his prison cell, the anonymous protagonist writes his story of brutality. The narrator is drunk, and this makes his life fall apart; the more he drinks the more brutal deeds he makes. First, he cuts his cat, Pluto’ s eye out with a knife, then hangs Pluto a tree in his garden. One night he sees another cat who is just like Pluto, and the narrator takes the cat to please his wife. However, the cat follows him every second, which irritates him a lot. Then he decides to kill the cat, but when he tries, his wife appears and tries to stop her husband and cruel narrator hits the ax in her brain then kills the cat as well. He hides the bodies into the wall. Finally, when the officers come, although they cannot find anything, the narrator confesses his crime.
Point of View in Literature
Stories depend on the perspectives from which they are told, which is called as point of view. There are four specific perspectives that a story can be narrated from. First one is the third person limited point, where the narrator is not a character in the story, however; the narrator can tell the thoughts of only one character of the story. Second one is the third person omniscient point of view, in which the storyteller is not in the list of characters, as well. However, s/he has the ability of telling the thoughts of all characters of the story. The third one is the second person narrator in which one can address the reader and uses pronouns such as you, your, yours and so on. Last one is the first person narrator where the narrator is a character of the story. The important point in this type of narrative is that narrator tells the story from his/her perspective, which is actually the main subject that I am going to study with the help of “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe.
Poe’s use of the “Unreliable Narrator”
The first-person narration is one of the strongest tools for creating suspense in the narrative. And Edgar Allan Poe, uses “unreliable narrator” – first person point of view- successfully. Poe, tells the reader clearly the reason why we must be suspicious about the fırst person narrators with his short story “The Black Cat”.
The suspense keeps the reader focused and impassioned. Poe, uses this strategy in his works such as “The Black Cat”, “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Poe, creates these successful stories with the help of increasing the influence of suspense and horror. (Tuscano, Use of Suspense in Poe’s short stories)
Reasons and Proofs for The Unreliability of The First Person Narrator in “ The Black Cat”
“The Black Cat” is a story narrated by an unnamed storyteller who at the very beginning claims to be truly sane and states that he is sentenced to death, will be killed next day.
FOR the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not — and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul. (“A Career in Fiction” 477)
Therefore, this weird protagonist makes us suspicious about the story he tells. Although he is a killer, from the very beginning he tries to convince us about the sincerity of his narrative.
The reader is shown in the opening paragraph that he should not trust the narrator to deliver the true events of the story. The narrator admits throughout the story that his bad habits, namely alcoholism, lead to his irrational state of mind. His alcoholism was the root of his downfall. (“The Black Cat”: Deranged Narrator)
The protagonist tells the reader his terrifying sin – cutting his cat’s, Pluto, eye with a knife- in a sentence which shows us his instability of mind, because he does a brutal thing, but he acts like it is normal and tells the reader this brutality in one and only sentence as if it is okay. Then the narrator continues as follows: “ When reason returned with the morning.” With this sentence, the narrator tells us his regrets; so now he feels guilty but this feeling gets lost when he starts to drink. Therefore, it is clear to see how much the narrator is aware of his barbarous deeds which is a clue for us to show how trustable our narrator is. (Misiak, Black Cat)
The cat, I remembered, had been hung in a garden adjacent to the house. Upon the alarm of fire, this garden had been immediately filled by the crowd — by some one of whom the animal must have been cut from the tree and thrown, through an open window, into my chamber. This had probably been done with the view of arousing me from sleep. (“A Career in Fiction” 479-480)
In this quotation, the narrator finds himself a rational explanation about the existence of the cat in his bedroom.Our narrator always finds a rational explanation in order to calm his mind. He says that during the fire one of his neighbors sees the cat hanging in the garden and throws it through the window in order to wake him up, then the wall falls over the cat and its sculpture appears on the wall. And this explanation tells us about the stability of our narrator’ s mind.
To summarize, the story is a brilliant piece of Edgar Allan Poe, which leaves the reader in suspense. Almost with every sentence of our narrator, Poe tells us that we should not trust first person narrators, especially the ones who try to convince the reader about his sincerity and stability.
A Career in Fiction: A Collection of Stones by Edgar Allan Poe “The Black Cat”. pg. 477-483. Printed
An Exploration of Short Stories By Edgar Allan Poem “The Black Cat”, Copyright 2005-2014.Site Built by Design 215. 28 Dec 2014. Web.
Tuscano, Serena Use of Suspense in Poe’s Short Stories “The Fall of the House of Usher -Hop-Frog – The Black Cat”. Academia 2014. Academia.edu. 28 Dec 2014 Web.
Misiak, Slawko “Poe ‘The Black Cat’ as an Example of Gothic Story” Black Cat. Academia 2014. Academia.edu. 28 Dec 2014 Web.
Alammar, Layla. Be not Afeard “The Unreliable Narrator-The Black Cat” WordPress, 17.Feb.2013.Web. 28 Dec 2014 < http://lalammar.net/2013/02/15/the-unreliable-narrator-the-black-cat/ >
“The Unreliable Narrator is a term, coined in 1961 by Wayne Booth, that is used to describe a narrator whose recounting of a tale is suspect – whether through willful deceit, immature naivete, or mental instability. The Unreliable Narrator forces the reader to ask, ‘Is this true?’ rather than ‘Who did it?’ or ‘What happened?’ “ (Alammar, THE UNRELIABLE NARRATOR – “THE BLACK CAT”)