Historicism In The Black Cat

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Human beings have long sought to discover deeper meaning to the things that our reality has surrounded us with. The philosopher and scientist alike seek greater clarity and understanding in all things both material and immaterial; it is this somewhat stubborn proclivity that drives many critics of literature to perhaps look deeper than needed into their readings of texts to reveal meanings and themes that may actually just be projections of their own transposed to the work. This may be the case in regards to historicist readings of Edgar Allan Poe. While the biographical and sociological influences of a particular work are no doubt intriguing and valid, in the case of Poe’s “The Black Cat,” they seem to walk a thin line between illuminating …show more content…
His characters are frequently well established within an upper-class, often inhabit abbeys and mansions, indulge in strange and exotic literature, and generally behave in archetypically “gothic” manners. Poe abandons these conventions in “The Black Cat” and instead focuses upon a fairly average narrator, existing within a thoroughly domestic realm. The narrator deals with problems that would be fairly familiar to Poe’s readers. The narrator owns pets, has a wife, and struggles with intemperance, all characteristics firmly rooted in domestic soil. By focusing on these familiar elements of domesticity, Poe’s not only creates originality inside the otherwise conventional frame of the gothic, but by appropriating domesticity, also creates an atmosphere (or effect) of commonality that many of his readers would certainly be able to identify with. It is this desire to affect a more “common” audience that makes allegorical readings appear somewhat far-reaching. Poe uses domesticity as a device to make the tale’s events more recognizable to his audience, without ever striving to take a concrete stance on any of the subjects within. Poe scholar, Paul Lewis, expounds upon the expectations of Poe’s audience: “Poe’s first readers—who were familiar with forthright treatments of slavery and poverty, with reform stories about abusive masters, cruel husbands, intemperate drinkers, or impoverished criminals in which details of plot, characterization, mood, and setting inevitably supported political, social, or moral theses—may have found “The Black Cat” unsettling in its unwillingness to engage in argument not only about race and gender but also about poverty and class.

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