“The Black Cat” is a short story written by Edgar Allen Poe about a man who suffers from guilt after hanging his beloved pet cat, Pluto. He later finds and adopts another black cat, but this cat terrifies him because it reminds him of what he did to the previous cat. The instances of doubling in “The Black Cat” have several purposes, which include providing situational irony, acting as projections of the narrator’s guilt, and creating symmetry in the story which signifies a change in the narrator’s character.
One of the main functions of doubling in this short story is to provide irony, which acts as justice to the narrator. In the beginning, the narrator hangs his cat Pluto after gouging his eye out with a pen knife near the end of the story, the narrator is apparently sentenced to death by hanging because he is found guilty of murdering his wife. This doubling of hanging and then being hung provides a sense of karma in the story.
The narrator states in the opening, “My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified — have tortured — have destroyed me.”
This quote suggests he understands that he is being hung as a result of his actions, which are an accumulation of household events. The fact that he suffers the same fate as Pluto is a doubling that gives justice and shows that the narrator ended up punishing himself in the end.
Doubling in “The Black Cat” is also significant because it acts as a projection of the narrator’s guilt. He suffers a psychological disorder called delusions of persecution. These delusions cause him to make parallelisms between the second cat and Pluto he doubles the two cats together by physical appearance, stating that the second cal looks similar to Pluto in size and color. The more time he spends with the new cat, the more he fears it he narrates “I avoided the creature; a certain sense of shame, and the remembrance of my former deed of cruelty, preventing me from physically abusing it” (Poe).
In this quote, the narrator explains that he avoids the cat because it reminds him of what he did to Pluto. The occurrence of a second cat is thus significant because it brings out his guilty feelings about killing Pluto. He also states “With my aversion to this cat, however, its partiality for myself seemed to increase. It followed my footsteps with a pertinacity which it would be difficult to make the reader comprehend”. The narrator feels like the new cat is following him everywhere. Although the story is written in 15‘ person, it is likely that the narrator just felt paranoid and was not actually being followed by the cat. In these cases, the function of doubling is to elicit the narrator’s guilty and paranoid conscience. Lastly, parallelisms serve to create symmetry in the plot of the story, which signifies the changing character of the narrator. The burning of the house is the turning point. Before the house burns down, the narrator was generally a nice guy.
He describes himself by saying “From my infancy, I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions” (Poe). This tenderness of heart is particularly directed toward animals however, after a few years, he became an alcoholic and abusive. He admits “But my disease grew upon me -— for what disease is like Alcohol ! — and at length even Pluto, who was now becoming old, and consequently somewhat peevish even Pluto began to experience the effects of my ill temper” (Poe). When he is drunk, as he states in the quote, he mistreats his wife and his pets, including his beloved Pluto. It gets to the point where he hangs Pluto, and that same night the house burns down. After the house burns down, the story and the character both change. The character tries to create a logical explanation as to why there is a cat imprint on the wall in order to ease his conscience.
He continues drinking and finds a new black cat although he first thinks this cat will bring him comfort, he later realizes he feels the opposite way about it, saying “For my own part, I soon found a dislike to it arising within me. This was just the reverse of what I had anticipated; but I know not how or why it was — its evident fondness for myself rather disgusted and annoyed” (Poe). The narrator feels the reverse of what he thought he would feel around the new cat. This attitude toward the pet is opposite to how he felt around pets before the house burned down. He also becomes increasingly abusive to his wife as well he says “…my uncomplaining wife, alas! was the most usual and the most patient of sufferers.
One day she accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the cellar of the old building which our poverty compelled us to inhabit” (Poe). This quote demonstrates how his wife became a regular victim of his outrages and that they had to move a poorer house. The occurrence of a cat, increasing alcoholism, and increasing abuse towards of his wife are all parallels that show give the story symmetry before and after the burning down of the house, and demonstrate that the narrator has changed, Edgar Allen Poe likes to explore the conscience in many of his short stories. The use of doubling in “The Black Cat” is noticeably ironic and provides justice to the narrator, as well as projects the narrator‘s conscience and demonstrates that his character has changed.