"The Black Cat" is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. It was first published in the August 19, 1843 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. It is a study of the psychology of guilt, often paired in analysis with Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart". In both, a murderer carefully conceals his crime and believes himself unassailable, but eventually breaks down and reveals himself, impelled by a nagging reminder of his guilt.
The story is presented as a first-person narrative using an unreliable narrator. The narrator tells us that from an early age he has loved animals. He and his wife have many pets, including a large black cat named Pluto. This cat is especially fond of the narrator and vice versa. Their mutual friendship lasts for several years, until the narrator becomes an alcoholic. One night, after coming home intoxicated, he believes the cat is avoiding him. When he tries to seize it, the panicked cat bites the narrator, and in a fit of rage, he seizes the animal, pulls a pen-knife from his pocket, and deliberately gouges out the cat's eye.
From that moment onward, the cat flees in terror at his master's approach. At first, the narrator is remorseful and regrets his cruelty. "But this feeling soon gave place to irritation. And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of PERVERSENESS." He takes the cat out in the garden one morning and hangs it from a tree, where it dies. That very night, his house mysteriously catches on fire forcing the narrator, his wife and their servant to flee.
The next day, the narrator returns to the ruins of his home to find, imprinted on the single wall that survived the fire, the figure of a gigantic cat, hanging by its neck from a rope.
At first, this image terrifies the narrator, but gradually he determines a logical explanation for it, and begins to miss Pluto. Some time later, he finds a similar cat in a tavern. It is the same size and color as the original and is even missing an eye. The only difference is a large white patch on the animal's chest. The narrator takes it home, but soon begins to loathe, even fear the creature. After a time, the white patch of fur begins to take shape and, to the narrator, forms the shape of the gallows.
Then, one day when the narrator and his wife are visiting the cellar in their new home, the cat gets under its master's feet and nearly trips him down the stairs. In a fury, the man grabs an axe and tries to kill the cat but is stopped by his wife. Enraged, he buries the axe in her skull instead. To conceal her body he removes bricks from a protrusion in the wall, places her body there, and repairs the hole. When the police came to investigate, they find nothing and the narrator goes free. The cat, which he intended to kill as well, has gone missing.
On the last day of the investigation, the narrator accompanies the police into the cellar. There, completely confident in his own safety, the narrator comments on the sturdiness of the building and raps upon the wall he had built around his wife's body. A wailing sound fills the room. The alarmed police tear down the wall and find the wife's corpse, and on her head, to the horror of the narrator, is the screeching black cat. As he words it: "I had walled the monster up within the tomb!"
Like the narrator in Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", the narrator of "The Black Cat" has questionable sanity. Near the beginning of the tale, the narrator says he would be "mad indeed" if he should expect a reader to believe the story, implying that has already been accused of madness.
One of Poe's darkest tales, "The Black Cat" includes his strongest denouncing of alcohol. The narrator's perverse actions are brought on by his alcoholism, a "disease" and "fiend" which also destroys his personality.
The use of the black cat evokes various superstitions, including the idea voiced by the narrator's wife that they are all witches in disguise. The titular cat is named Pluto after the Roman god of the Underworld.
"The Black Cat" was first published in the August 19, 1843 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. At the time, the publication was using the temporary title United States Saturday Post. Readers immediately responded favorably to the story, spawning parodies including Thomas Dunn English's "The Ghost of the Grey Tadpole".
"The Black Cat" was adapted into a film starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in 1934 and another with Lugosi and Basil Rathbone in 1941, although neither version bears much resemblance to the original story. Many other adaptations exist but the most faithful to the original is the middle segment of Roger Corman's trilogy film Tales of Terror in 1962. Although the overall film was cast with Vincent Price as the lead, in this segment, he was in a supporting role with Peter Lorre as the main character. The 1934 film Maniac also loosely adapts the story. This version follows a former vaudeville actor who kills a doctor and takes the doctor's place to hide his crime. "The Black Cat" was also adapted into a film of the same name by Italian horror director Lucio Fulci in 1981. Film director Dario Argento presented his own loose adaptation of the story in the 1990 anthology film Two Evil Eyes.
"The Black Cat" is the eleventh episode of the second season of Masters of Horror. The plot essentially retells the short story in a semi-autobiographical manner, with Poe himself undergoing a series of events involving a black cat which he used to inspire the story of the same name.
In 1997, a compilation of Poe's work was a released on a double CD entitled Closed on Account of Rabies, with various celebrities lending their voices to the tales. The Black Cat was read by avant-garde performer Diamanda Galás.