What Goes Around Comes Around. In his story The Black Cat,” Edgar Allan Poe dramatizes his experience with madness and challenges the reader’s suspension of disbelief by using imagery to describe the plot and characters. Poe uses foreshadowing to describe the scenes of sanity versus insanity. He writes, “For the most wild yet homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor elicit belief. Yet mad I am not – and surely do I not dream,” alerting the reader about a forthcoming story that will test the boundaries of reality and fiction.
The author asserts his belief in the activities described in the story when he states, Tomorrow I die, and today I would unburden my soul” (80). Poe describes the affectionate temperament of his character when he writes, “My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions” (80). He also characterizes his animal friends as “unselfish” and their love as “self-sacrificing,” illustrating his devotion to them for their companionship. The author uses foreshadowing in the statement, “We had birds, goldfish, a fine dog, a rabbit, a small monkey, and a cat” (80).
The use of italics hints to the reader of upcoming events about the cat that pique interest and anticipation. Poe also describes a touch of foreshadowing and suspension of disbelief when he illustrates his wife’s response to the cat when he writes, All black cats are witches in disguise, not that she was ever serious upon this point – and I mention the matter at all for no better reason than it happened, just now, to be remembered” (80). Poe expresses his early attachment to the cat and dramatizes the character changes he experiences when he writes, “Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years, during which my general temperament and character – through the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance – had (I blush to confess it) experienced a radical alteration for the worse” (81). He warns the reader of new events in a cynical tone and implies the beginning of the madness he denies. Poe first illustrates this madness when he uses imagery to describe the brutal scene with the cat when he writes, “I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket!” The author describes his emotional and physical state of being during the unthinkable act as “I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity” (81).
He describes the morning-after effect of his actions when he states, When reason returned with the morning-when I had slept off the fumes of the night’s debauch-I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty; but it was, at best, a feeble and equivocal feeling, and the soul remained untouched” (81). Poe implies to the readers that he has truly crossed over into madness by brutally attacking the animal and feeling little or no remorse. Next, Poe dramatizes his change in character even further when he writes, “And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of PERVERSENESS” (81), which once again alerts the reader of new events so shocking that reading forward becomes an essentiality. The author illustrates a scene so outrageous that the reader has to go beyond the suspension of disbelief they have agreed to participate in. He writes, “One morning, in cold blood, I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree;-hung it with tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart;-hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because I felt it had given me no reason of offense;-hung it because I knew that in so I was committing a sin-a deadly sin that would jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it-if such a thing were possible- even beyond the reach of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God” (81-82).
Now the reader has crossed over the line of reality versus fiction. The author continues to illustrate the inconceivable story when he describes the scene after the fire that destroyed every part of the house except the one wall that was still standing. Poe writes, I approached and saw, as if graven in bas-relief upon the white surface, the figure of a gigantic cat and there was a rope around the animal’s neck” (82), leading the readers to join the madness and believe that this was the same cat that Poe had savagely destroyed earlier that same day. The author describes his need to replace the animal in order to feel peace and, after doing so, he finds himself once again feeling abhorrence toward the animal. He writes, “but gradually-very gradually- I came to look upon it with unutterable loathing, and to flee silently from its odious presence, as from the breath of a pestilence” (83). Poe uses imagery to describe his disgust with the cat when he states, “that like Pluto, it also had been deprived of one of its eyes” (83); he now wanted to destroy this animal as well.
Poe illustrates the change of character he has experienced since the beginning of the story. He has gone beyond the madness that has consumed him many times. He writes, Evil thoughts become my sole intimates – the darkest and most evil of thoughts” (84). The author uses more imagery when he writes the final abominable act of evil. Poe confesses to the reader about the murder of his wife when he states, “Goaded by the interference into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the ax in her brain” (84). He explains how he disposes of the body in detail and describes the relief he feels when he writes, “I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept even with the burden of murder upon my soul” (85). Poe informs the reader of his little remorse when he states, “My happiness was supreme, and the guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little” (85).
The author leads the reader to the final plateau of suspension when he dramatizes the conclusion of the story. He explains the sounds he heard in detail when the mystery unfolds regarding the missing cat. He had not seen or heard from it since the murder. He writes, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman – a howl – a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the damned in their agony and the demons that exult in damnation” (85). Poe’s use of descriptive details allows the reader to feel the horrifying experience of a man who believed he was free from the evil of madness. Poe ends the story after utilizing every inch of suspension of disbelief the reader can afford. He sums up the plot of the story when he writes, “the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman” (85), implying that the cat had induced the same torture on him that he had brought on the first cat.