In literature, Edgar Allen Poe is widely known for his short stories that all have common dark, non-moralistic theme. Considering, Poe’s “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” have no exceptions. Theses works show exemplementry stories of narrators who have gone mad, murdered out of wickedness, and seek redemption from those who’ll listen. Poe’s unique writing styles and plot grabs hold of the reader’s attention and takes them down a dark, spiraling path of the narrators’ minds.
From different theories from many acquiring minds, to the simple impressions given form the characters themselves, one can see the war between characterizing them as mad or thriving for deep redemption. However, in both these short stories, Poe’s narrators represent the inner evil of a mad man that’s not the norm, while captivating the audience, he allows the murders to convince their readers that they are indeed sane.
Starting from the beginning, Poe’s inspiration for his short stories, “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” are depicted from Dickens, who Poe had encountered on his first trip to America Dickens’s story, “The Clock-Case: A confession Found in a Prison in the Time of Charles the Second,” an old army officer, who is now in prison, made a confession of a murder he committed the night before his death sentence. The narrator, who had lost his brother and the wife of the latter, and was left with their child to care for, perpetrated the murder (Krappe, 84).
From this one story alone, Poe gathered many similar ideas and incorporated them into his own stories. The number one theme found in all three stories is death, with the main character or narrator being the one delivering the end of the victim (Krappe, 85; “The Tell-Tale Heart,” 36). Along with these physical actions, the psychological reasoning behind the crimes or the initial thoughts of murder is unknown (Krappe, 85). The three stories also had related diction in which they presented the tragedy (85), especially in the way they displayed the characters and their troubling thoughts and uncontrolled actions (Krappe, 85).
In each of these the victims are hidden in cleverly thought out places, like the garden (Krappe, 86), the floorboards in “The TellTale Heart” (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” 39), and the a newly plastered wall in “The Black Cat” (Krappe, 86). Each of the three murderers became increasing insane after their assignation, drawing more attention to them and ultimately leading to their conviction (Krappe, 86). However, after their assassinations were committed, in “The Black Cat” especially, the narrator sought to hold his rationality, but exhibits his insanity by the seemingly increased anxiety in his telling of his story (Cleman 634).
The physiological-psychological mechanisms, that had possessed them to complete these seemingly evil tasks, can be the only explanation for these men to be able to murder in cold blood with no remorse. These inspirations Poe held, prompted Badenhausen’s criticism of “The Black Cat,” which he begins to develop his theory through the explanation of Poe’s works being dependent upon “haunting animal figures, self-conscious narrator on the brink of madness,” and many other key factors of Poe’s dark short stories (Badenhausen, 488).
On this point alone, Badenhausen seems to be on the right track. Pos’s “The Black Cat,” does present to have an eerie black, fluffy, and “sagacious to an astonishing degree” (“The Black Cat,” 64) feline. There are many motives Badenhausen conjectured from Poe’s narrator; his main belief is his emphasis on the latter’s audience. The narrator, according to Badenhausen’s words, “is constantly quailing, correcting, and explaining himself, in the hope that the audience will see events from his perspective” (Badenhausen, 488).
This, the character actions revealed to the audience itself, clearly depicts the insanity of the narrator’s. In both, “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Poe allows his main characters to “speak” to the audience to allow them a chance to explain their actions. Although the narrator believes their stories they are telling the readers are fair and believes they do not need saving, many theorists believe deep down they thrive to be redeemed. Another theorist has brought up one term: Ego-Evil, which “refers to behavior motivated by selfish calculation and greed” (Wing-Chi, 25-26).
Ego- Evil is shown in “The Black Cat,” by the way the narrator brutally killed and hung the first cat, but then tried to do it again with the second one as well (“The Black Cat,” 18; Badenhausen, 488). While keeping this in mind, the widely known definition of insanity is completing the same tasks over again expecting different results. In Poe’s short story with the killings of the cats, the narrator expected after he killed the first one he would not feel haunted by it anymore. However, these confessions will not let up or equal to the narrator’s redemption if that is in fact what he wanted.
All the while, narrators from both stories give themselves self-empowerment (Wing-Chi, 27). In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” he speaks with bold authority to the reader and says that he “heard all things in the heaven and the earth. ” (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” 37) Implying he knows what he is talking about and needs no other’s help. Then, the narrator begins by asking the reader a question, “but why will you say that I am mad? ” (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” 37), or declare, “mad I am not” (“The Black Cat,” 64), and proceed to retell their story.
Along with these questions, there is a sense of anxiety, and the narrators become more obsessed with the physical attributes of those they have faults with (Badenhausen, 492). However, there are other theorists who will say that Poe’s main characters could be considered a self-positioning characters who is one that maintains and installs his own laws and consciousness (Wing-chi, 27). Even though this might be a factor, the traditionally known morals of today do not hold murder of high value. Also, presented in both stories, is the symbolism of the eye.
Many say the eyes are the looking glass into the soul, the reasons why these foul men wanted to sever that bridge may have been for different reasons, but they are all connected to the insanity the characters’ actions scream to the audience. Also reconnecting to Poe’s inspiration, Dickens’s story, the mother and child, eyes and looks are put on the man that drives him to insanity. Equally, in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” one theorists believe the narrator is dependent on the victim’s eye (Wing-chi, 27).
Even though Poe used Dicken’s work as a blueprint, his are more morbid, being in “The Tell-Tale Heart” the old man’s “Evil Eye” (Krappe, 85; “The Tell-Tale Heart,” 37) that just happened to be cross-eyed and in “The Black Cat” the cat’s eye the man cuts out (Krappe, 85; “The Black Cat,” 18) because he was going mad by the way the animal looked at him. Even though both use the eye to symbolize the motivation for the murder, Dickens’s terminology of “overlook” allows Poe’s words of “evil eye” cast a darker meaning over his pieces of work (Krappe, 86).
This leads the reader to see that even though Dickens’s and Poe both incorporated the eye into their pieces, the way they wrote about the atrocities defines their writing techniques as two separate entities. The main point of the eye in both stories in the fact that it itself has brought both men to complete their tasks of murder and drove them insane, ultimately led to their own downfalls. Their self-conceit, especially shown in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” led to the anger, hate, and in the end insanity.
Lastly, the audience, like Badenhausen mentioned in his report earlier, is brought forth and examined further. Poe writes his story, allowing the narrator to present his story to an audience who has a choice to listen, almost like a jury, so the narrator had the “opportunity and capability to receive penance for his deed” (Badenhausen 493). However, in “The Black Cat” he falls on verbal tricks, for example, when he labels his story as plain or declaring he is not mad before relaying his story (“The Black Cat,” 64).
Poe’s characters are also known for manipulating the reader “with multiple evasions and explanations” (Bandenhausen, 493). Throughout both “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrators, both try to relate their story in a way not to make them look like monsters. They try to make the audience understand that their actions are just and it was because “the fury of a demon” (“The Black Cat,”64) or a man’s “dull blue [eye], with a hideous veil over it” (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” 38).
To reinstate, not only do Poe and Dickens’s ideas, wording, and symbolism match, but the overall appearances of the homicides as well. Poe’s victims are confronted with a friend like manner, like the old man from a “The Tell-Tale Heart” when the narrator greets him (Krappe, 86; “The Tell-Tale Heart,” 37), Dickens’s presented a toy boat to the child (Krappe, 86). In each of the three stories the victims are hidden in cleverly thought out places, like the garden (Krappe, 86), the floorboards in “The TellTale Heart” (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” 39), and the a newly plastered wall in “The Black Cat” (Krappe, 86).
Each of the three murderers became increasing insane after their assignation, drawing more attention to them and ultimately leading to their conviction (Krappe, 86). Knowing all this, the audience, the one’s who Poe allows to decide the fate of the accused, is the narrator’s accomplice hearing the insanity of the story first hand, continues to listen … does this make the audience mad as well? In the end, Poe’s narrators ultimately contribute to his underlying theme of inner evil.
No matter whose perspective one was to look from, “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” reveal the masked primitive side of the human being, or maybe they are just mad. Either way, they will not receive the redemption one might need to feel reinstated. However, despite the outward appearances of them, or any one person in this matter, might be mentally unstable just unable to redeem themselves. Even so, it is hard to feel bad for a character who seems to have no remorse, especially with the characteristics and actions Poe presents.