An Unreliable Narrator in “The Black Cat”
The point of view in which a narrative is told influences the audience directly, as well as
sets up the theme and setting of the story. The point of view presented by Edgar Allan Poe, in the
short fiction “The Black Cat” is very significant as it contributes directly to how the story is
perceived by the reader. The story is conducted by an anonymous narrator speaking in first
person, with the narrator as the only source of information, the reader is easily manipulated in
terms of theme and character development.
Poe’s careful choice of the narrator’s words gives the audience insight to the mindset of
the main character. In the introduction to the story the narrator explains he does not “expect nor
solicit belief” (Poe 17), this is the first clue the reader is presented with in regards to the
reliability of the narrator. Further into the introductory paragraph the narrator explains his
“phantasm” (Poe 18) and need of a reader “more calm, more logical, and far less excited”(Poe
18) than him to understand the truth behind his enhanced and “fabricated” (Amper 1) story.
When explaining the abilities necessary for the reader to properly interpret the story, Poe reveals
the narrator lacks logic and in turn is too excited to tell the story as it happened in reality. Once
again the reader can imply that the narrator is not telling the story how it happened exactly, but
instead how his disturbed mind perceived the experiences. These quotations provide the reader
with evidence to support the fact that point of view can manipulate and interfere with the truthful
depiction of theme and character development, affecting how the story is interpreted as a whole.
The narrator acknowledges the fact that he is undergoing changes in his demeanor and
character; experiencing “radical alteration for the worse..” and becoming “more regardless for
the feelings of others” (18 Poe), but he quickly places the blame on alcohol and later on his cat,
Pluto. This irrational excuse of a cat-- something innocent and out of his control-- being the
source of his deteriorating mental state, “evidences a certain delusional paranoia” (Stark 4) and
discloses the fact that the narrator is untrustworthy and mentally ill. Following the recognition
and explanation behind his ever growing madness, the narrator described the violence he began
to inflict upon his pets and wife- the things he once so greatly cherished, “the source of many of
my simplest and purest pleasures” (22 Poe). The narrator’s depleting state of mind and loss of his
previously genuine and wholesome character is most dramatically portrayed after the murder of
his wife. The narrator has no remorse, instead he describes sleeping “soundly and tranquilly…”
“...even with the burden of murder” (Poe 24). Despite the fact that he has just murdered someone
he is assumed to love very deeply, the narrator interprets the murder as relief, or his first peaceful
sleep where he is unbothered...