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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Kitty Cats and Psychopaths

  Kitty Cats & Psychopaths

            Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Black Cat” tells the story of a man with the urge to kill. Initially, the man describes himself as very peaceful, quiet, and animal-loving, but these attributes are directly contradicted as he delves into his mental processing during the murders. After brutally killing his beloved cat and wife, the man shows no remorse. Immediately after the incident, he only brainstorms how to dispose of her body.
            The narrator from this story is similar to the BTK killer, Dennis Rader, in that they both portray vivid characteristics of a psychopath. A lack of remorse and unbridled egoism are two common aspects of psychopathic behavior. The BTK killer relished in the downfall of his victims for nearly 35 years before getting caught. Jack Levin from the article states, “for a person with a conscience, Rader’s crimes seem hideous, but from his point of view, these are his greatest accomplishments…” (Mann). This aspect of pride is evident in both cases. The article depicts Rader as an emotionless man with nothing but pride for his gruesome endeavors. During his testimony, he gave a “cool and dispassionate” detailing of his 10 murders (Mann). He also created the “BTK” name for himself; the name coming from the method of his murders as “bind, torture, kill.” The fact that he distinguishes a name for himself illustrates his immense pride and lack of remorse for his victims and his actions. In the story, the narrator would have been declared innocent if it had not been for his arrogance. He willingly leads the police into the cellar, taunting them with the seemingly meaningless remarks of “this is a very well constructed house…an excellently well constructed house” (Poe 86).  His livid pride for his murderous actions is evident here, but ultimately causes his downfall as he hits the wall, causing the cat to cry out.
            Although many typically think of psychopaths as anti-social loners, this is frequently not the case. Psychopaths tend to be “extraordinarily ordinary” so that they easily blend in and avoid suspicion (Mann). In the story, the narrator says he was “noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition,” (Poe 78). He also married young and lived with his wife in their home with many animals. An outsider’s perspective would see nothing unusual; not suspecting of the murderous acts the man is capable of. The BTK killer was active in his church and had just been elected church council president before his arrest. He worked as a supervisor for animal control and was married with two children. An friend states “Nobody would have called Dennis Rader a psychopath before he got arrested” (Mann). In both cases, the men only appear to be favorable members of the community. They use their home and societal status to build a façade grand enough to eclipse the dark passenger within them.
            Whether or not these psychopathic urges are self-willing or instinctive is the true question. Both men appear to enjoy the act of murder, judging from their lack of remorse, but is there an indiscernible evil luring them further into the darkness with each victim? The BTX killer and the narrator share this irrepressible urge to kill, virtually becoming a spectator of their own evil deeds. This “out of body” experience is evident when the narrator pierces Pluto’s eye, stating “I knew myself no longer” (Poe 79). Although both men are fully aware of their gruesome deeds, they allow themselves to believe that death is the only viable option for their victims. Both murderers exhibit prevalent psychopathic characteristics, which generally lead to typical serial killer behaviors.

Poe, Edgar A. "The Black Cat." 1843. American Gothic Tales. Comp. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Plume, 1996. 78-86. Print.

"The BTK Killer. Portrait of a Psychopath." Fox News. Mann, Denis. Web. 25 Sept. 2013. <>.

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