The Black Cat by Edgar A. Poe As rewritten by Mrs. Goularte of PHS Illustrations by Jose Prieto, PHS Senior '03
1843 …written from a prison cell…
This is the wildest, yet basic story which I am about to tell you. I don’t expect you to believe me. I would be crazy to expect you to believe me because I am not sure I believe it myself.
But tomorrow I die, and today I need to unburden my soul. I want to tell the world simply and quickly about what happened.
The consequences of what happened have terrified – have tortured – have destroyed me.
Perhaps someday, someone wiser than me will understand how my feelings about this event are exaggerated – that the details I share are nothing more than……an ordinary sequence of very natural causes and effects.
From birth I was known for being peaceful and nice. My tenderness of heart stood out so much that my friends used to make fun of me.
I loved animals and was spoiled by my parents with a lot of cool pets. I spent most of my time with them and was never so happy as when feeding and petting them..
This love of animals continued into my adulthood. Those who have loved a faithful and intelligent dog, will understand the pleasure I got from my pets.
There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of an animal which goes directly to the heart of its owner.
I married young and was happy that my wife felt the same way about pets, and she brought home many wonderful animals.
We had birds, gold fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat.
This cat was a special animal, large and beautiful, all black and smart to an amazing degree. In speaking of his intelligence, my wife (who was not superstitious at all) would joke about the popular ideas, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise. She was never really serious about this.
Pluto, the cat’s name, was my favorite pet. I alone fed him, and he followed me wherever I went around the house. I even had trouble preventing him from following me through the streets when I left the house.
My friendship with the cat lasted for several years, during which my general attitude and character experienced a radical, extreme change for the worse.
I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more unfeeling to the feelings of others.
I suffered myself to use foul language to my loving wife, going as far as threatening her with violence.
My pets felt the change in my behavior. I not only neglected, but mistreated them.
For Pluto, however, I still retained enough respect and love to keep myself from maltreating him, but I made no attempt to stop mistreating the rabbits, the monkey, or even the dog if they got in my way.
But my disease grew (as alcoholism usually does), and eventually even Pluto, who was now getting old and irritable, began to experience the bad effects of my ill temper.
One night, returning home, drunk from one of my haunts around town, I believed that the cat avoided me. I grabbed him; when, in his fright at my violence, he bit me on my hand.
The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed to leave my body; and a fiendish, gin-nurtured malevolence [madness] filled me.
I took a pocket knife , opened it, grabbed the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from its socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder to tell you about this terrible event.
When reason returned in the morning – when I had slept off my alcoholic stupor – I experienced the feelings of regret for the crime I had committed the night before; but it was a weak feeling, and my soul remained untouched.
Again I plunged into excess and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed.
In the meantime the cat slowly recovered. The socket of the lost eye looked frightful, but he no longer appeared to suffer any pain. He went about the house as usual, but, as might be expected, fled in extreme terror at my approach.
At first, I felt bad that this cat, who once loved me, now hated me. But this feeling soon turned to irritation, then strange rebellion – one of Man’s most primitive, basic sentiments or feelings.
Indeed, who among us has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a terrible or a silly act for no other reason than because he knows he should not?
This strange, perverse feeling finally overtook me. I had an unbelievable desire of the soul to vex or annoy itself – to offer violence to its own nature – to do wrong for wrong’s sake.
This feeling is what urged me to finish the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending, innocent animal, my cat Pluto.
One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose around the cat’s 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 trouble;
-- hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin – a deadly sin that would so threaten my immortal soul as to place it – if such a thing were possible – even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.
I have a hard time establishing a sequence of cause and effect, between the disaster and the atrocity. But I am telling a chain of facts – and hope I don’t leave out any information.
On the day of the fire (after the cat was hung), I visited the ruins [what was left over from the fire].
All but one inner wall had fallen. This remaining wall was the wall by my headboard of my bed in my bedroom. Surprisingly, the fire hadn’t damaged this wall very much.
There were a lot of people standing around staring at a spot on this wall. I heard them say, “Strange!” and “Amazing!” and many other expressions. Their comments made me curious so I wandered over to look..
I saw as I approached, as engraved upon the wall’s white surface, the picture of a gigantic cat with a rope around its neck
When I saw this, I thought it was a ghost – for what else could it be since my wonder and terror were extreme.
But after thinking about it for awhile, I remembered that the cat had been hung in a garden next to the house.
When the fire alarm rang, this garden had immediately filled with people who wanted to watch the excitement.
Someone in this crowd must have cut the cat down and thrown the dead cat into my bedroom’s open window to wake me up.
The falling of other walls must have smashed the victim of my cruelty (Pluto) into the freshly-spread plaster on the wall by my bed. I assume the lime from the plaster had mixed with the heat and ammonia from the dead animal to create the ghastly image on the wall.
Although I tried to reason through this scary event, it did not fail to make a deep impression upon my imagination. For months I could not delete the image from my mind, and during this time, I seemed to feel a bit of guilt.
In fact, I went so far as to regret the loss of the animal and to look around town for another cat similar to Pluto.
One night as I sat in a bar, half stupefied by liquor, I saw a black object, resting on the head of a large barrel of Gin or Rum. After staring at this image for a long time, I got up and walked over to it and touched it.