This tale was first published in 1843 in the United States Saturday Post, second published in 1854 in a volume edition. The incipit is very famous, and it’s in the first person. The narrator says that the story that he’s going to tell is the most wild (incredible) and homely (ordinary, easily understandable); it’s a sort of contradiction. We don’t know who the addressee of the story is, but al line 2 he says “tomorrow I die”, using the present and so some critics think it’s a judge of maybe a priest, because this story is a sort of confession, but more generally the addressee is the reader. He doesn’t want the reader to believe. He knows that is very difficult to believe this story, and anticipates what the reader could think, he says he would find it difficult to believe the story too if he hadn’t lived it. The reader could also think he’s mad, but he says he isn’t mad, it’s a sort of defense. He only tells the all plain facts, not trying to explain them, first of all because he can’t. He then says that this facts horrified him, but maybe some readers will be able to read them with calm and understand them as a sequence of fact with a cause-effect relation. He was a kind and sensitive person, especially with animals, and so his parents bought to him a lot of pets and he was very happy to feed them. When he grew up this love for animals grew and in his adulthood he finds this one of his most pleasant activities. It’s a gratifying thing, that everyone who has or have had an animal can understand. Friendship with animals is in his opinion better, because you can rely on them more than humans. He manages to find a wife like him, with the same disposition to animals and so they have a lot of animals: birds, fishes, rabbits, a dog and a cat (word that is put by Poe in italics in the original test, in order to make clear the importance that this animal will have in the story). Then there’s a description of the cat, which is large and beautiful, clever and all black. Talking about its intelligence, the wife refers to medieval superstitions (even if she’s not superstitious at all), when it was believed that cats were servant of witches, devils in disguise (in fact they were often burnt with them in the period of witch-haunting. Reference to it can also be found in Macbeth: when the three witches appears and calls their servants, one of them is a black cat) or were witched disguised. The narrator says that he tells this event because it crossed his mind by chance, but it’s strongly connected to the story, in fact there are other elements that connects this cat to that superstitions, such as his name, Pluto, which was the name of the God of the Underworld back to Greek mythology. The narrator and the cat has a very strong friendship for several years, he’s fond of him, but then something starts changing and the cause of this change of disposition is alcohol (which is called al line 40-41 “Fiend Intemperance”). The best effect of alcohol is that he maltreats his with, before just verbally, but then also physically. All his pets has to suffer of this violence, all except the black cat. But the disease grows so much that, also because Pluto was becoming old and peevish, he starts to maltreat it too. One night he comes home completely drunk and thinks the cat is avoiding him, he takes it and the cat bites him. Now he goes crazy, his former character disappears (“my original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body”) and a demoniac fury takes his body. He takes his pen-knife and cut one of his eyes. The next morning he has a moment of awareness, shame and horror, but his soul doesn’t change, what rests is the evil soul and he plunged into alcohol again.
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Edgar Allan Poe - The Black Cat