'The Black Cat' Questions for Study and Discussion

Consider these questions to better understand Poe's work

Portrait of black cat at night
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"The Black Cat" is one of Edgar Allan Poe's most memorable works of horror. First published in The Saturday Evening Post on Aug. 19, 1843, the story is a first-person depiction of an alcoholic's deterioration into madness.

The story focuses on a small cast of characters, many of them animals, and how they relate to the narrator throughout his retelling of recent events. Episodes of animal abuse and murder fill out this complex image of an unwell man grappling with his sanity before his imminent death. In discussing this work with a group or reviewing it for academic study, here are a few questions to consider.

Questions for Study and Discussion

Dissect the story and its themes by going through these questions:

  • What is important about the title of "The Black Cat"?
  • What are the conflicts in "The Black Cat"? What types of conflict (physical, moral, intellectual, or emotional) do you see in this story?
  • How does Edgar Allan Poe reveal character in "The Black Cat"?
  • What are some themes in the story?
  • How does Poe employ symbolism in "The Black Cat?" How do the symbols relate to the plot and characters?
  • Is the narrator consistent in his actions? Is he a fully developed character? How? Why?
  • Do you find the narrator likable? Would you want to meet him?
  • Do you find the narrator reliable?
  • How would you describe the narrator's relationship with animals? How does it differ from his relationships with people?
  • Does the story end the way you expected? How? Why?
  • What is the central purpose of the story? Is the purpose important or meaningful?
  • Why is the story usually considered a work of horror literature? Would you read it on Halloween?
  • How essential is the setting to the story? Could the story have taken place anywhere else?
  • What are some of the controversial elements of the story? Were they necessary?
  • What is the role of women in the text?
  • Would you recommend this story to a friend? Why?
  • Suppose Poe did not end the story where he did: What do you think would have happened next?
  • Are the supernatural elements believable? Why or why not?
  • Discuss the presentation of love and hate in the story.
  • How does the point of view used in the story make it effective in presenting tension and conflict?

Comparison to Other Poe Works

Looking for broader Poe essay ideas? Consider "The Black Cat" in relation to other Poe works:

  • How does "The Black Cat" compare with "The Tell-Tale Heart"?
  • How does Poe demonstrate madness or sanity with his narrators?
  • How does alcohol play a role in Poe's stories, his narrators' lives, and their believability?
  • How does Poe present the supernatural? 
  • How does Poe use animals as symbols and contrast them with humans?
  • Compare Poe narrators, their fixations, and the effects on their mental states.
  • Would Poe's narrators be found innocent in a court of law by reason of insanity? Why or why not?