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A Discussion Of Poe's Story The Black Cat In Light Of Theories Of Fantastic And Uncanny

1907 words - 8 pages

`Analyse Poe's story The Black Cat, in the light of the theories of the fantastic and/ or the uncanny.'

"In the genuine fantastic, there is always the external and formal possibility of a simple explanation of phenomena, but at the same time this explanation is completely stripped of internal probability,"

Vladimir Solovyov [1]

It is the adherence to this statement, which is typical of works that can be classified as literature of the fantastic genre that ensures that the implied reader of Edgar Allan Poe's tale, `The Black Cat' experiences the necessary sense of hesitation and lack of complete closure that is consistent with this genre in its pure form. The writer provides a variety of explanations for seemingly supernatural occurrences, however does not clearly outline a definitive solution for such events. Poe essentially intertwines the notions of the `natural' progression of cause and effect, with the condition of the accepted inclination of man towards perversity. In spite of such explanations, the reader is confronted with the converse realm of a mystical quality, as events that occur are perhaps too coincidental to be considered conventional. Ultimately, it is such allusion to elements of both the real and the supernatural that ensures that the intended audience vacillates between two indecisive conclusions and thus enters the dominion of the fantastic.

References: [1] Todorov, Tzvetan; `The Fantastic: A structural approach to a literary genre.' P26.

The figure of the black cat stands as a symbol of both the need for retribution, and as a means by which the supernatural element can interfere with natural order and compel the narrator to take responsibility for his own moral decline. The black colouring of the animal is also significant as it relates to the superstition of black cats as being inherently unlucky, and so therefore it is admonished with a sense of mystical uncertainty as to its true nature. This is exemplified with the wife's reference to the superstitious belief that black cats are `witches in disguise.'[2] Further, within the tale, the cat appears to mirror the behaviour of the narrator, and likewise the protagonist can see that his own `good' sense of self is reflected in the nurturing `caresses' [3] of Pluto. This mirroring of personality can be viewed as a forewarning of the hidden evil that becomes a prevalent attribute within the narrator when under the influence of alcohol, consistent with the hidden potential for evil embodied within the cat. The cat, in the mind of the narrator, is the cause of the frustration that leads to his ultimate moral descent, as revealed in:

`My next step was to look for the beast which had been the cause of so much ...

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