Examination of Edgar Allen Poe's Works

Updated on July 12, 2017

Edgar Allan Poe, author of poems and short stories such as “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” was one of the greatest authors of the early 19th century. Poe’s life was marred by tragedies such as the loss of his wife, mother, and childhood love to tuberculosis. These losses helped to shape his stories into graphic tales of love, death, and loss. “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” are two of his stories that bear numerous prominent similarities.

“The Black Cat” is one of Poe’s more horrific tales. It is told from the point of view of a madman, who begins by denying his own madness as he explains his compassionate nature as a child. He explains his love of animals, a love that his wife shared, and they acquired many. The narrator talks about his favorite animal, a large black, intelligent cat named Pluto. Over the next few years, the narrator becomes more irritable and inconsiderate. He begins to abuse his wife and pets, all but Pluto. However, as the madness grew upon him, he began to mistreat Pluto. One night, when the narrator returned home drunk, he grabbed Pluto and, when he was bit on the hand, he drew his knife and cut out Pluto’s eye.

In the morning, the narrator felt only slight remorse for his actions. He began to drink heavily as the cat recovered, wandering around the house but avoiding the narrator. This began to irritate him. He explains the perverseness of human nature before recounting the event of Pluto’s murder. One morning, he went out into the garden and hanged him, knowing that he was committing a deadly sin. That night, the narrator was awoken by a fire in his home and he, his wife, and one servant fled the house. The next day, he returned to the scene of the fire to find a thick crowd surrounding the one wall left standing. It had been recently plastered, allowing for it to resist the fire. There was an image on the wall of a gigantic cat with a rope around it’s neck.

The narrator begins to realize what must have happened. Someone had cut down the cat from the tree and threw it into the house in an attempt to wake the narrator up. The walls had then fallen onto the cat, compressing him into the newly spread plaster. The image of the cat began to haunt him, and he began to again feel a slight regret for his actions. One night, he saw a cat just as large as Pluto sitting atop a hogshead. As he approached, he noticed this cat had a large white splotch of his underbelly. He brought it home, and his wife quite liked it. Over time, however, he felt himself begin to dislike the cat, and began to avoid it. He decides that the animal’s lack of an eye must have increased his hatred of it, but his wife only liked it more. As the narrator began to avoid the cat, it began to follow him more, and the memory of Pluto’s murder was the only thing keeping him from killing it. As the narrator’s wife began to mention the white mark, he began to imagine that it was in the shape of a noose.

The narrator begins to struggle to sleep, for the cat is always around him. He begins to feel hatred towards everything. One day, he and his wife descend into the cellar, followed by the cat. This drove him to madness, and he lifted up an axe, aiming for a fatal blow. The axe, however, was stopped by his wife. In a fit of rage, he turned and buried his axe in her brain, killing her. He began to think of concealing the body, finally settling on hiding it behind a cellar wall. Using a crowbar, he removed the bricks in front of a false fireplace, set the corpse in the gap, and replastered the wall, making it look undisturbed. He began to search for the cat so he could murder it, but was unable to find it. He was overjoyed, and after three days, when the cat had still not appeared, he decided it had left. He was very happy, and his crime did not disturb him. Four day after the murder, a group of policemen came for an unexpected search. He led them through the house, and just as they were preparing to leave, he rapped upon the wall where he had hidden the body, and a howl came from it. The police tore apart the wall and discovered the body of his wife, upon which sat the cat.

The Tell-Tale Heart also begins with the narrator denying his own madness. He says that the disease has made him sharper, not duller. His madness leads him to decide to kill an old man who he loved, for no reason other than his “vulture eye,” which was pale blue with a film over it. He says that a madman would not have been able to proceed as carefully as he did. He was unusually kind to the old man for a week before his murder. Every night, he would enter the old man’s room, and very carefully shine his lantern on the vulture eye, only to find it closed every night for seven nights. He could not kill the old man without the motivation of the eye. Every morning, he would ask the old man how he slept, so as not to arouse suspicion. On the eighth night, he was extra careful opening the door. As he thought of the old man’s unawareness of his action, he chuckled a little, and the old man sat up, startled. The narrator kept on opening the door, and was about to open the lantern when his thumb slipped, and the old man yelled, “Who’s there?” He heard the old man groan, and slightly pitied him, for he too had experienced night terrors. After a long while, the narrator opened a very small slit in his lantern, illuminating the vulture eye. The sight of the eye enraged him, and he heard a fast, dull, sound, which he recognized as the beating of the old man’s heart. The sound began to speed up and grow louder, until he feared that a neighbor might hear it beating. With a yell, he dragged the old man under his heavy bed, suffocating him. The noise of his heart continued, muffled, but this didn’t worry him. Eventually, the sound stopped, and he removed the bed from the old man. The narrator says that his method of concealing the body proves his sanity. He put the cut up remains under three planks in the floor, leaving no stain or blood visible. After he had done this, three police officers arrived at the house, saying that a neighbor had heard a shriek during the night. The narrator let them in, saying that a nightmare had caused him to shriek, and that the old man was away in the country. He was so confident, he brought three chairs into the old man’s chamber, placing his own directly above the body. The officers were satisfied, and they chatted. The narrator began to pale, and he heard a ringing in his ears. He began to talk louder, as he realized the noise was not in his ears but out. It was a dull, quick sound. He began to argue loudly and pace the room, as the noise increased in volume. He became convinced that the officers were mocking him, for they must have heard the noise. He becomes so upset that he admits to the murder, convinced that he hears the beating of the old man’s heart.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” have many similar elements. The stories are both told from a jail cell by the the murderers. In “The Tell-Tale Heart” none of the characters have names, much like in “The Black Cat.” An eye is involved in the murders that take place in both of the stories. In “The Black Cat,” the definitely mad narrator denies his insanity, in like manner with “The Tell-Tale Heart.” In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator chooses to hide the old man’s body in his house under the floor. Similarly, In “The Black Cat,” the body of the narrator’s wife is hidden behind a wall. In both stories, police officers show up and are led to stay at the scene of the murder. additionally, they are led to discovery the murders only through the actions of the narrators.

It is evident that “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” have many obvious similarities. They were both penned by Edgar Allen Poe, one of the greatest 19th century author. Losses of many important women in Poe’s life and abuse from his foster father helped shape the gore and horror in his famous macabre stories.

What is your favorite of Edgar Allen Poe's Works?

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    • ziyena profile image

      ECLECTIC PLETHORA 10 months ago from LOST IN TIME

      Nice Hub ... Thank You