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The Effect of the Use of Irony on the

Progress of Poe's Short Story, "The Black Cat"

This Paper will interpret a short story, "The Black Cat", by Edgar

Allan Poe. My Purpose is to show the effect of the use of irony on the progress of the short story. I Suspect that use of irony in Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Black Cat," is one of the main points which allows the hidden character of the Narrator, and the truth of the situation to be revealed and helps the reader to comprehend the story better.

In Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Black Cat," the nameless narrator begins his horrifying tale by informing his readers that he

is about to relate a "series of mere household events" (FN1). He

then wonders if, in the future, when his morbid tale is discussed by others considering his case, they will find it to be "nothing more

than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects" (FN2).

Considering the terrible conclusion of the story, this very opening establishes an ironic tone that continues until the end of the tale. The fact that the Narrator would even wonder if his horrible story would ever be considered a "series of mere household events," and the casual, almost off-handed way he contemplates his actions immediately informs the reader that the opinion of the Narrator and the facts of the story he is relating may turn out to be something completely different from what is first presented. He tells us in the beginning of the story that "tomorrow I die." Obviously something extraordinary has taken place or he would not be in that fateful position. The reader quickly comprehends that the Narrator's opinion of the story and what actually occurred may be two very different versions of some gruesome event. The fact that the Narrator is in jail and has been sentenced to death only adds to the irony of his musings. He looks back on the events with "awe," yet thinks that others, sometime in the future, will understand and sympathize with him, finding what he did not odd at all. In the end we know he will die because in the beginning he has still, only hours before his death, come to terms and accepted responsibility for the consequences of his actions. In the very first paragraph of the story he points the finger of blame at "these events" which he claims "have terrified- have tortured-have destroyed me." Refusing to recognize his own guilt, the Narrator condemns "these events" as the cause of all his woes. As a reading of the story quickly demonstrates, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Clearly the most ironic element in "The Black Cat" is the Narrator's own perversely unrealistic and distorted view of the horrible scenario that unfolds. He dismisses his awful cat mutilation as a "vile or silly action" committed, perhaps, like other foolish acts committed by "Man" "for no other reason than because he knows he should not." He goes on to wonder, "Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it to be such" (FN3)? Later he finds himself haunted by the specter of the dead cat, but he comes up with a rational, albeit improbable, explanation for the strangled-cat image on his burned-out wall. His married life is a shambles and he lives, as we will learn later in the story, with a murderous, suppressed rage. But he barely mentions his wife until the end, when, in fact, he kills her; and he calmly goes about his daily life as if nothing were wrong, giving no hint that this peaceful facade is about to crumble.

In addition to his distorted sense regarding his relationships, the Narrator views his drinking problem as some alien, outside force. He conveniently blames his alcoholism for his miserable behavior, as if he had nothing to do with it himself. At the outset of the story he details his love of animals, describing his "partiality for domestic pets" and goes on at length about his "friendship" with Pluto, the first black cat. But within a couple of paragraphs, the Narrator is describing the terrible night when, in a drunken rage, he stabbed the poor cat's eye out. He goes on to blame "the Fiend Intemperance" which caused the "radical alteration" in his mood. Thus, he remains the good-natured animal lover, pointing the finger at alcoholism instead of himself, thereby freeing himself from any responsibility regarding the cat, or any of the events that follow. Preferring not to examine his own motivations too closely, the Narrator adopts the attitude of a bewildered victim, acknowledging the dreadful nature of his deeds, yet remaining aloof from them at the same time.

In describing Poe's fiction, G.R. Thompson defines Poe's use of irony as "a basic discrepancy between what is expected or apparent and what is actually the case." And he calls Poe " a satiric ironist," using satire to make a "fuller use of comic distortion" (FN4). Thompson goes on to identify "literary irony" as "a writer's verbal and structural mode of purporting to take seriously what he does not take seriously, or at least does not take with complete seriousness." Irony, Thompson says, "is more often than not philosophically characterized by a skepticism engendered by seeing opposite possibilities in a situation . ... it is in this sense that the term irony describes Poe's characteristic mode of writing" (FN5).

Throughout "The Black Cat," Poe's very tone is filled with this

kind of ironic comment on his Narrator's actions and dilemmas.

His unsettling juxtaposition of humor and horror, coupled with the Narrator's own bizarre matter-of-fact attitude towards his misdeeds not only keep the reader off balance, but also help establish Poe's almost sarcastic attitude towards the Narrator and his crimes. According to Thompson:

"When the satirist makes use of irony, he pretends

to take his opponents seriously, accepting their

premises and values and methods of reasoning in

order to eventually

...

...

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