Seeing Poe’s Struggle With Alcoholism Essay

5046 words - 21 pages

Seeing Poe’s Struggle with Alcoholism
through his Stories “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Black Cat”
Jen Andalou

Edgar Allen Poe’s stories “The Black Cat” and “The Cask of Amontillado” are among his
most popular. Both of these stories can be read on several different levels causing
everyone who reads them to come up with a totally different interpretations, yet none of
the interpretations I have read seem satisfying. The two stories at first seem simple
enough, with “The Black Cat” reading as a darker version of “The Telltale Heart”, this
time with the conscience given a physical form, and “The Cask of Amontillado” as a
chilling tale of revenge exacted told as a deathbed ...view middle of the document...

The narrator goes from being a very kind and
gentle lover of animals to being a vicious monster that maims and kills helpless animals
and ends up being a remorseless murderer, all because of his “Intemperance” (Poe,
“Cat”), or alcoholism. The narrator committed atrocities, such as cutting out Pluto’s eye,
while under the influence of alcohol and admitted to physically abusing his wife as he
sunk lower into alcoholisms grasp. Alcohol not only caused the narrator to destroy
everything he knew and loved but ended with his self-destruction (Poe, “Cat”).
The narrator in “The Black Cat” claims to be giving a confession, to unburden his soul
(Poe, “Cat”), yet really he is blaming his alcoholism for his crimes. From the very
beginning the narrator is trying to duck blame as he explains he will give as evidence
“household events” that have “destroyed” him (Poe, “Cat”). He goes on to explain how
his temperament had changed through alcoholism, even having the insight to call it a
disease. After every cruel act the narrator tries to feel bad but cannot, he says his “soul
remained untouched” (Poe, “Cat”). After describing his own remorseless murder of his
wife, he speaks first of the cat’s scream as arising from the demons in hell and then of the
cat itself as “the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder” (Poe, “Cat”). In
other words, he blames the cat for the murder! It is also obvious that he seems to think of
the cat as a demon looking for his downfall despite his earlier denial. Alcohol is often
called a demon and the narrator in “The Black Cat” talks about “the Fiend Intemperance”
(Poe, “Cat”). The narrator even talks about the “fury demon” that possessed him, a “ginnurtured
fiendish malevolence” when he maimed the cat (Poe, “Cat”) and a rage that was
“more than demonical” when he murdered his wife (Poe, “Cat”). Taking all of the
narrator’s words together we find that he thinks of alcohol as a demon that posses man,
he sees that demon in himself, even to the point of exceeding the demons, and he finally
blames the murder and his downfall on a demon. Although the narrator is confusing
them in his mind, he is really talking about the same thing – the demon of alcohol
possessed him leading him to murder. We can also see from this failed confession many
signs of his alcoholism. The fact that he refuses to take responsibility is actually quite
understandable since that is one characteristic of an alcoholic (NMHA). The narrator
also only sees the harm done to himself in the story, almost ignoring the life that he took,
self-centeredness being another characteristic of an alcoholic (NMHA).
Looking at the sources for “The Cask of Amontillado” we can see that this tale full of
puns and double meanings was meant to be written almost as a joke, but a joke with a
point to be made about alcoholism. According to Fisher Poe borrowed from his own
work “Bon-Bon (11,12), a story about a man who escaped the devil by becoming...

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