The Uncanny Mind: Perpetrator Trauma in Poe’s “The Black Cat”

Bethanie Allyson Sonnefeld, Brigham Young University


Among the psychological interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” trauma theory has yet to make an appearance. However, the confessional nature of the story shifts—via a trauma reading—from an attempt by the narrator to ease his guilt to his attempt to understand what happened to him. The narrator’s murder of his wife traumatized him, causing erasures in the timeline and several forms of dissociation. These erasures and dissociations cause an uncanny effect within the story, which occurs as the past, present, and future are conflated and as the narrator’s mind is both known and hidden. The narrator’s tale is an attempt at working through his trauma to come to an understanding and acceptance of the events. However, the unclear timeline—both how much time has passed since his wife’s death and the passage of time in the story—suggests that the narrator does not have enough critical distance from the events, so telling his tale becomes a form of reliving that does not relieve the confusion he experiences. Ultimately, the narrator’s confession does not provide the understanding he hopes for, which places the burden of creating an understanding of the story on the individual reader.