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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Serial Killers and "The Black Cat"

Catherine Rivera
Gothic Lit
Blog 3, Option #3

Serial Killers and "The Black Cat"

            In the story by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Black Cat,” the main character is an unnamed man with homicidal tendencies.  The man claims to be an animal lover, and he adopts a feral cat.  He proceeds to kill the cat because it bites and scratches him.  The narrator displays serial killer tendencies that evolve throughout the story.  Today there have been many studies that relate certain traits to potential serial killers.  Not all people who have these traits are serial killers but many documented serial killers have specific traits in common.  To understand what makes people serial killers researchers look at childhood experiences and mental stability.  The narrator in “The Black Cat” exhibits traits that are also exhibited by today’s serial killers.
            In the beginning of the story the narrator describes the way his love of animals quickly changes into a hatred of them.  The narrator admits that he, “made no scruple of maltreating the rabbit, the monkey, or even the dog, when by accident, or even through attention, they came in my way” (Poe 79).  He would beat his animals even when they came to him seeking to be pet or played with.  He later cuts his cat’s eye out because the cat bit him on the arm.  According to scientific research, “almost all serial killer admitted that they started by acting out their violent fantasies on animals before graduating to human beings” (listverse 1).  The narrator eventually murders the cat by hanging it from a tree.  The public display of his accomplishment, hanging from the tree, is even more reason to believe that the narrator is a serial killer.    
            The narrator does not directly say he was abused as a child, but it could explain the lack of sympathy he shows his victims.  According to researchers many serial killers lack sympathy or empathy for other people.  Neglected or abused children can lose their sense of compassion because they were not cared for properly, “the child will become desensitized; he will begin to believe that this emotionally barren world that surrounds him is something normal—and so he will grow up devoid of empathy for other” (listverse 1).  It is clear that the narrator has lost his empathy for others when he buried his axe into his wife’s brain.  He shows no remorse for this murder and immediately thinks about hiding her body in the wall.  The narrator like many other serial killers is empty of remorse or any feeling of guilt.  The question arises, what causes people to be serial killers?  Is he a serial killer because he is a naturally bad person or was he abused as a child and lost all empathy for humanity?  The many traits and childhood experiences that serial killers have in common may suggest that they were abused as children. 
            Serial killers usually hold a disregard for human life and life in general.  This could be because of horrible experiences in childhood and early adulthood.  The narrator says, “the moodiness of my usual temper increased to hatred of all things and all mankind” (Poe 83).  According to experts, psychological trauma and sexually stressful events can have hugely negative consequences for children who may already be sensitive (listverse 1).  This trauma can lead a lack of compassion and a disregard for human life.  The narrator displays many traits that are exhibited by modern day serial killers.  These traits could possibly be avoided with greater understanding of the circumstances that make people into serial killers.        


Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Black Cat” American Gothic Tales. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates.
            New York: Plume, 78-86. Print. 

listverse. “10 Most Common Traits of Serial Killers” 2007

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