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Analysis of The Black Cat Through Freud's Personality Theory

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Freud described personality by dividing it into three main subjects; personality structure which is the id, ego, and superego, personality dynamics in particular the self-defence mechanism and personality development. Today I will be focusing only on the personality structure and the personality dynamics. This analysis uses the defence mechanisms which occur within the personality dynamics and the personality structure to analyze The Black Cat characters in the short story.

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In this part of the analysis, the narrator’s character development will be elaborated based on Sigmund Freud’s division of human personalities of id, ego, and superego. It is of no surprise to conclude the narrator of the story, as he has a very strange and complex mind. He is capable of showing the nurturing side of him and the nature side as shown in these lines: “From my infancy, I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition”. This attitude of a seemingly peaceful individual is the narrator’s nature which he inherited from his parents. It was because of his parents as well as that he loved and had a substantial fondness for animals. According to the narrator, he was indulged by his parents’ variety of pets when he was a kid. As he was growing up, this fondness slowly diminished. That could be due to the influence of his surroundings and the people he came to grow up within. Because of the influences coming from various sources, the behaviour of the narrator changed – that including his desires. This is where the id of the narrator started to become very apparent. The id is where the aggression and desires come from. That is the core of a personality, the wanting to satisfy the desires because if not, the person will become tense or worse, and will resort to unnatural behaviours. After the narrator went home one night, intoxicated with alcohol, the cat avoided him. In the beginning, the cat named Pluto was the playmate of the narrator. He favoured Pluto best. Pluto adores him too by approaching him as soon as he is home. But as Pluto grew older, he somewhat became peevish. That night the narrator went home, Pluto avoided him, which is something he did not like. That cold reaction of Pluto alongside the narrator’s intoxicated state made him unreasonable. He became enraged and seized Pluto as shown in the following lines: “I seized him;.. The fury of the demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body”.

Another instance of the narrator pleasing himself is when the next black cat happened to come into his wife’s life and his. He, like Pluto, came to love the cat. But that affection did not last for long, his dislike for that cat grew until this dislike turned into disgust. The second black cat suffered the same fate as Pluto. The narrator lost his sense of reason.

There is little to note about the narrator’s development of the ego. The ego is the component of personality that is responsible for dealing with reality. It is the ego that ensures that the appearance of the id is satisfied in a manner that will be well perceived by society. The mental capacity or incapacity of the narrator makes his ego unbalanced. His rational mind was very short-lived as he did not suffer for the misconduct that he made to Pluto. In the case of the second black cat, the ego of the narrator held him back from hurting the black cat as stated in these lines: “At such times, although I longed to destroy it with a blow, I was yet withheld from so doing, partly by a memory of a former crime,..”. It could be said that from the statement mentioned, the way the narrator dealt with the reality of killing Pluto, was by listening to his conscience.

The last part is the narrator’s superego. Superego is the final component of the personality trait to be developed by an individual. The superego is what holds the three together, and hence it is also accounted for a person’s sense of right and wrong. The narrator knows what he did was wrong. That was revealed by his guilt and the way he tried holding back from putting the second cat in the same fate as Pluto. With that being said, it can be said that the narrator in the story, The Black Cat is dominated by his id then his ego and superego. He was more concerned about attaining his desires regardless of the ways he does it, and without caring about if he endangers himself or the people around him in the process. His id did not claim just plain pleasure, but pleasure after pleasure. He did not like Pluto any longer so he did not feed him then for more pleasure, he killed him. His wife then prevented him from killing the second black cat, he did not push his wife away but he killed her in that instant. This murder is the reason why at the beginning of the text, a foreshadowing of his death was made. All these things the narrator was able to do because of a very powerful substance called alcohol.

The second and last part of the personality types that I’m going to be talking about is personality dynamics. This part of personality can help explain the actions of the narrator in a different way rather than the personality structure. There are three terms that you guys need to be familiar with: Irrational: The term irrational is often used in psychotherapy and the concept of irrationality is especially known in rational emotive behaviour therapy originated and developed by the American psychologist, Albert Ellis. In this approach, the term irrational is used in a slightly different way than in general. Here, irrationality is defined as the tendency and belief that humans have to act, emote, and think in ways that are inflexible, unrealistic, absolutist, and most importantly, self and socially defeating, and destructive.

The short story, ‘The Black Cat” portrays three main psychological aspects of the human mind that includes irrationality, perversity, and guilt. From the beginning of the story, it is clearly understood that the main character is superstitious. He recalls his wife’s words as “my wife…., made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise’. The narrator calls his wife superstitious. Superstitious is a synonym of irrational. As the story proceeds, it can be seen that he is far more superstitious himself. Moreover, the narrator begins to believe in the reincarnation of the black cat. Upon seeing the second cat, he quickly brings into mind the appearance of Pluto and how both cats resemble.

The second quote was ‘It was a black cat a very large one-fully as large as Pluto, and closely resembling him in every respect but one’. His mind is full of these irrational beliefs that scare him and lead him to the hatred of the second cat and the murder of his beloved wife.

“Although I longed to destroy it with a blow, I was yet withheld from doing so, partly it at by a memory of my former crime, but chiefly – let me confess it at once – by absolute dread of the beast” Therefore, the superstition in the mind of the main character is his primary reason for killing the second cat. In addition to this, the author in ‘The Black Cat’ expresses the spirit of perverseness” through his main character. Perverseness can be characterized as a conscious persistency in doing wrong, even to loved ones. Perverseness is the deliberate resistance to discipline or in other words the disobedience. This condition is always followed by guilt, which is another psychological aspect of the story.

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If the story is not read analytically, the reader can say that his aggressiveness is due to his consumption of alcohol, consequently, making him a violent murderer. Furthermore, if it is read with a deeper exploration, the cause of his violence comes out to be his perverseness. ‘this spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow…to offer violence to its own nature to do wrong for the wrong’s sake only that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute.’ Psychologists describe impulses as a radical imbalance of behaviour, but the author puts a much vivid light on it. He explains that once an idea or impulse hits the mind of a person, he cannot resist acting upon it.

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