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BOOK REVIEW: THE BLACK CAT by Edgar Allan Poe

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–Read Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

    Edgar Allan Poe was born Edgar Poe (January 19, 1809 –October 7, 1849), was an American writer, poet, editor, and a literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism, an intellectual and literary movement in the United States, and of American literature as a whole. He was one of country’s earliest patronisers of short story. He is also considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. Further credited, for contributing, to the emerging genre of science fiction. Edgar Poe was the first well-known American writer to earn a living through writing alone, even though, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.

    The Black Cat is one of Edgar’s popular short story. It was first published in August 19, 1843, in an edition of ‘The Saturday Evening Post.’ It is a study of psychology, a study of guilt, often paired, in analysis with Poe’s another short story titled, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart” where an unnamed narrator, endeavours to convince the reader, of the narrator’s sanity, while simultaneously describing a murder, the narrator has committed. In both the stories, the murderer carefully conceals his crime and believes himself unassailable, but eventually he breaks down and reveals himself, impelled, by a nagging reminder of his guilt.

    The story is written in first-person narrative using an unreliable narrator. But in reality he is a condemned man as detailed at the very outset of the story. The narrator tells us, that from an early age he loved animals. He and his wife had many pets, including a large, beautiful black cat named Pluto as described by him. The cat is especially fond of the narrator and it is also vice versa. Their mutual friendship lasts for several years till the narrator becomes an alcoholic. One night, after coming home completely intoxicated, the narrator believes, the cat is avoiding him. When he tries to catch him, the frightened cat responds by biting the narrator, and in a fit of drunken rage he holds the animal, pulls out a pen-knife from his pocket, and mercilessly gouges out the cat’s eye.

    From that moment onwards, the cat flees in terror upon his master’s approach. At first, the narrator is remorseful and regrets his cruelty. He says, “But this feeling soon gave to irritation. And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of perverseness.” Later, in another fit of drunken fury, the narrator takes the cat out in the garden one morning and ties a noose around its neck, and hangs it from a tree where it dies. But that very night his house mysteriously catches fire, forcing the narrator, his wife and their servant to flee the premises premisis.

    The next day, the narrator returns to the ruins of his home only to find, imprinted, on the single wall that survived the fire, the apparition of a gigantic cat with a rope around the animal’s neck.

    At first, the image deeply disturbs the narrator, but gradually he derives a logical explanation for it. Someone outside had cut the cat from the tree and thrown its corpse into the bedroom to wake him up during the fire. Soon the narrator begins to miss Pluto and hate himself for his actions, feeling guilty. Sometime later, he finds a similar cat in a tavern. It is the same size and colour as the original and is even without one eye. The only difference being a large white patch on the animal’s chest. The narrator takes it home, but soon begins to fear and loathe the creature, due to the fact that it amplifies his feeling of guilt. After some time, the white patch of fur begins to take shape and, much to the narrator’s horror, forms the shape of the gallows. This terrifies and angers him more, and he avoids the cat whenever and wherever possible. Then, one day when the narrator and his wife are visiting the cellar in their new home, the cat gets under his master’s feet and nearly trips him down the stairs. This amplifies the rage of the alcoholic narrator, and he grabs an axe and tries to kill the cat but is stopped by his wife. Being unable to take out his drunken fury on the cat, he angrily kills his wife with the axe instead. To conceal her body he removes bricks from a protrusion in the wall, and places her body there, and then repairs the hole. A few days later, when the police show up at the house to investigate the wife’s disappearance, they find nothing and the narrator goes scot free. The cat, which he intended to kill as well, has also gone missing. This grants him the freedom to sleep without the burden of a murder.

    But on the last day of the investigation, the narrator accompanies the police into the cellar. They still find nothing significant. With this the narrator lowers his guards. He is now completely confident of his own insulation from being arrested for the crime. This when he comments on the sturdiness of the building and taps the wall that he had built around his wife’s body. When a loud, inhuman wailing sound fills the room. The police alarmed tear down the wall and find the wife’s corpse. Sitting on the corpse’s rotting head, to the utter horror of the narrator is, the squealing black cat. The terrified narrator is shattered by this reminder of his crime, which he had believed to be safe from discovery, and the appearance of the cat. As he words it: “I had walled the monster up within the tomb!”

    The story is extremely well written if you like horror. I would give it seven out of ten.

By Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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Our publications

GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE

(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 8 prestigious libraries of the US that includes Harvard College Library; Harvard University Library; Library of Congress; University of Washington, Seattle; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Yale University, New Haven; University of Chicago; University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill University Libraries. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in libraries and archives of Canada, Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai and Jaipuria Institute of Management, Noida, India)  

ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY

(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi)

AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES

(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be the undying characteristics of Lucknow. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014. It is included for reading in Askews and Holts Library Services, Lancashire, U.K.)

REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD

(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)

TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN

(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

RHYTHM … in poems

(Published in January 2019. The book contains 50 poems. The poems describe our day to day life. The book is available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

MIRAGE

(Published in February 2020. The book is a collection of eight short stories. It is available in Amazon, Flipkart and Notion Press)

Short stories and Articles published in Bhavan’s Journal: Reality and Perception 15.10.19; Sending the Wrong Message 31.5.20; Eagle versus Scholars June 15 & 20 2020; Indica 15.8.20; The Story of King Chitraketu August 31 2020.

(ALL THE ABOVE TITLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN AMAZON, FLIPKART AND OTHER ONLINE STORES OR YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO US FOR A COPY)

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