Synthesis occurs when:
- Your thinking changes as you read
- You learn from what you read
- You add new ideas to what you already know
- You create something new by combining parts of a whole
After you read “The Black Cat,” you established a preliminary interpretation of the story. Then, we challenged those interpretations by reading what other scholars (Amper, Gargano, Crisman) have made of the story.
Now, you’ll write an essay addressing the main arguments Amper, Gargano, and Crisman have made regarding “The Black Cat,” and, building upon their ideas, develop your own logical interpretation of Poe’s irresistible short story. Ultimately, you’re answering the question: what is this story about?
There is no right or wrong way to analyze and interpret this story. The trick to getting this paper right is stringing together and combining related ideas among the three critical essays based on “The Black Cat,” and finding an opening (or gap) in their arguments for you to posit your own ideas. Essentially, you’ll be building a dialogue around “The Black Cat.” If you agree with another critic’s argument, you should elaborate and build upon their ideas with your own. If you disagree with an author’s argument, you should explain why and defend your own position.
While the entire essay should represent your own ideas, you’ll rely heavily on textual evidence and integrating quotes from the story and all three critical essays (hence the high word count).
What to Write About:
You don’t need to construct an interpretation for the entire story. You could (and should) focus on a single aspect instead, such as whether or not:
- The narrator is lying
- The fire was intentional or accidental
- There are one or two cats (or none at all)
- The narrator killed his wife intentionally or accidentally
- The “second” cat was walled up intentionally or accidentally
- The “plaster cat” was intentional or accidental
- There is a series of “logical causes and effects” in the story
Regardless of the aspect you focus on, your argument must be grounded in the text and supported by evidence. There has to be a logical, clear connection between your argument and the text. You can refer to the evidence from the short story each critic uses in their own argument as a reference to help you use your own.
Lists of Texts to Use:
- “The Black Cat” (Poe)
- Untold Story: The Lying Narrator in “The Black Cat” (Susan Amper)
- Mere Household Events in Poe’s “The Black Cat” (William Crisman)
- “The Black Cat”:Perverseness Reconsidered” (James W. Gargano)
- 1,500-2,000 Words
- Revealing Title* (i.e “Is the Narrator Lying in Poe’s ‘The Black Cat?'” or “The Case of the Accidental Fire in Poe’s ‘The Black Cat'”)
- Works Cited page
- No “I”
- Incorporates textual evidence from “The Black Cat”
- Integrates and builds upon the ideas from all three critical essays
*A revealing title means it “reveals” explicitly what your paper is about, and in all cases, should reference the title of the short story. See the titles of the critical essays for examples or explore the bibliographies at the end of each critical essay for more help.
Thesis: While many critics have unquestionably assumed the narrator is lying in “The Black Cat,” the basis of their claims is not supported by the text; giving the narrator the benefit of the doubt instead opens up more plausible interpretations of the story than has otherwise been suggested.
In Untold Story: The Lying Narrator in “The Black Cat,” Susan Amper forcefully concludes that “[o]bviously,” the narrator in Poe’s story is lying and that his “self-serving story” is “previously unrecognized but ultimately the inescapable truth about the narrator” (475). Amper believes the narrator’s motive for lying is to “minimize” his guilt, an interpretation not fully supported by and is, in fact, directly contradicted by the text. Amper first suggests the story is “self-serving,” almost entirely an impossibility given the circumstances surrounding the narrative. The narrator is writing from within a “felon’s cell” (10) to “unburden” his soul before he dies the next day (1). Later, he blames the cat for “consign[ing][him] to the hangman” (14). The narrator is resigned to his own fate (death), whether or not he agrees with his sentence, and therefore can believe only that he will be dead by the time his story is being read. At no point does the narrator make a claim to an unfair trial or any other circumstance that would suggest his narrative could alter the course of his fate. If, as Amper posits, the narrator is lying in an attempt to minimize his guilt, such a motive would only be relevant to the narrator’s fate after he is dead, and not as a means to avoid a death sentence. Consequently, lying in an attempt to alter his final destination after death would only undermine his sincerity, and thus, his narrative. True, had the story any impact on the narrator’s worldly fate, his reliability could be scrutinized. But, as an attempt to “unburden” his soul before the “Most Merciful and Most Terrible God” (6), he has no reason to lie, hoping instead being truthful, as outlandish as his story seems, can secure him a position among the angels in heaven.