Presentation on theme: "Summarized by Mrs. Tolin. From his prison cell, the unnamed narrator is writing the story of how everything in his life fell apart. Since he will be put."— Presentation transcript:
Summarized by Mrs. Tolin
From his prison cell, the unnamed narrator is writing the story of how everything in his life fell apart. Since he will be put to death the next day, he wants to set the record straight, and tells us the story of his life…
“Tomorrow I die, and today I wish to unburden my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, without added comments, or biased opinion, the details of what took place…” He begins his story—the flashback—by describing himself as a young boy…
From the day I was born, family and friends described me as mild and kind. I loved animals and had always had a lot of them. The older I got, the more these qualities grew. Taking care of my pets and hanging out with them was one of my favorite things to do.
I married early, and was happy to find that my wife had a disposition not much different than my own. She loved animals too, and so we filled the house with a variety of them: birds, gold-fish, dogs, rabbits, a small monkey…
…and, a cat. A remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and extremely smart.
My wife even made a joke in the beginning that all black cats are witches in disguise--- “ha!” right? Not that she was ever serious about this; I only mention it to acknowledge that I suppose it’s been possible, right?
Pluto—this was the cat’s name—was my favorite pet and playmate. I fed him, and he followed me around the house wherever I went. We became so close that I even had a hard time leaving the house without him trying to follow me around the streets!
Our relationship continued like this for several years but… over the years (I blush to confess this to you), I changed. You see, I should tell you that I have a bit of a—how do you call it?—a “drinking problem”. But it’s not really a problem, you see?
Anyways, I grew, day-by-day, more moody, more irritable, more insensitive towards the feelings of others. I can’t explain it. I’d catch myself using horribly rude or vulgar language to my own wife, as if someone else was saying the words for me! I not only inflicted personal harm against her, but at times, also made my pets feel the extent of my wrath. I not only neglected them, but ill-used them.
I managed to restrain myself from mistreating Pluto, somehow, but the others—the rabbits, the monkey, or even the dog—were common victims of my abuse whenever they came by my way.
But my disease grew upon me---for what disease is like Alcohol!—and at length, even Pluto, who was now becoming old, and consequently more shy—even Pluto began to experience the effects of my ill temper.
One night as I returned home, much intoxicated from one of my nights out on the town, I realized that the cat was avoiding me. That bothered me. So I grabbed him, but in his fright at my violence, he bit me!
The fury of a demon instantly possessed me, and I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to leave my body. What it left behind was an evil malevolence, (gin-nurtured of course), which thrilled every fiber of my frame.
I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen- knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! (Trust me, I blush and shutter at the thought of it now, as I tell you this.)
Reason returned when morning came. By then I had slept off most of the night’s alcohol, and the realization of what had happened set in. What I felt was... half of horror, half of remorse; but, at best, it was a weak feeling. My soul was untouched. So, I drowned any memory of the events in my wine.
Meanwhile, Pluto slowly recovered. The socket of his lost eye became more apparent and revealed a frightful appearance; however, he no longer appeared to be in pain. He carried on around the house as usual, but, as expected, he fled in extreme terror whenever he saw me.
There was still a part of me that remembered my love for Pluto, and so, at first, it saddened me to realize the extent to which he hated me. But this feeling soon turned into irritation. And then came (with the final overthrow of anything kind or humane left within me), the spirit of Corruption and wickedness.
But don’t place judgment on me yet, you hypocrites. It’s human nature, after all. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or silly action, for no other reason than because he knew he shouldn’t? Who here has never broken a rule simply because it’s fun to do so? (Uh huh, that’s what I thought.)
This spirit of Corruption, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to do wrong—for the wrong’s sake only!—that urged me continue and to finally complete the injury which I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute (Pluto).
One morning, in cold blood, I slipped a noose about the cat’s neck and hung it to the limb of a tree;--hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart;--hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because I felt it had given me no reason to injure it;--hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin—a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul’s acceptance by the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God. I killed Pluto.
Later that night, after the cruel deed was done, I was awoke from my sleep by the cry of a fire. The curtains of my bed were in flames. The whole house was blazing. It was with great difficulty that my wife, a servant, and myself, made our escape. The destruction was complete. My entire worldly wealth was swallowed up, and I resigned myself thenceforward to despair.
(Now, I know what you’re thinking. You think the fire was some sort of ‘punishment’ for what I did to Pluto. But I don’t believe that, and that’s not why I’m mentioning the fire. I only mentioned the fire to you because, as I said from the begin, I am detailing a chain of events and facts---I didn’t want to leave anything out and risk seeming impartial.)
The day after the fire, I visited the ruins. The walls, with one exception, had fallen in. This exception was found on a compartment wall, not very thick, which stood about the middle of the house, and against which had rested the head of my bed. The plastering had here (in great measure) resisted being burned by the fire. I presumed that this was because the plaster was recently spread, and was probably still wet.
A crowd had formed around this wall. They seemed to be examining a particular portion of it with a very minute and eager attention. The words “Strange!” and “Peculiar!” and other similar expressions, excited my curiosity. I approached it to see for myself.
I approached it to find an image (appearing as though it had been engraved into the headboard) that looked like the figure of a gigantic cat! The impression was given with an accuracy that was truly marvelous! In fact, it had a rope around the animal’s neck!
When I first saw the image---for I could hardly regard it as any less than an apparition of my mind—my wonder and my terror became extreme. But finally, reflection and reason came to my aid. The cat, I remembered, had been hanged in a garden adjacent to the house. Upon the alarm of fire, this garden had been immediately filled by a crowd of people, just watching. What must’ve happened is that an onlooker cut the cat from the tree, and he/she likely threw the cat into the home in an attempt to wake me from my sleep (to save me from the fire). When thrown into the room, the cat probably hit the (still-drying) wall of plaster, causing its shape to form on the wall. But the body of the cat was never found because it was probably disintegrated by the fire.
Regardless of my ability to come up with a reasonable explanation for this bizarre occurrence (the image), I still couldn’t get it out of my mind. For months, I was haunted by it all— during which time, however, I continued to visit my favorite town bar.
One night as I sat half stupified in a well- known bar, my attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, situated on the head of one of the large casks of Gin, or of Rum (which was the majority of the furniture in this establishment). I had been looking steadily at the top of this hogshead for some minutes, and what now caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner realized what the object was!
I approached it, and touched it with my hand. It was a black cat—a very large one—fully as large as Pluto had been, and closely resembling him in every aspect but one: Pluto had not a single white hair upon any portion of its body; but this cat had a large, although indefinite splotch of white, covering nearly the whole region of the breast.
Upon my touching him, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed against my hand, and appeared delighted with my notice. This, then, was the very creature I apparently was in search of. I at once asked the owner of the bar if I could purchase the cat, but he told me that he had never seen the cat before, so the exchange of money was unnecessary. I continued to caress it, and, when prepared to go home, the animal followed me.
I permitted it to do so; occasionally stooping down to pat it as I proceeded. When it reached the house it domesticated itself at once, and became immediately a great favorite with my wife.
But for my own part, I soon found myself disliking it. This was just the reverse of what I had anticipated. It’s just—I know not how or why it was—but this darn cat’s evident fondness of me began to disgust and annoy me! By slow degree, these feelings rose into the bitterness of hatred.
I attempted to avoid the creature; a certain sense of shame, and the remembrance of my former deed of cruelty to Pluto prevented me from physically abusing it. I did not, for several weeks, hit or otherwise violently ill-use this cat; however, gradually, very gradually, I came to look up on it with an unutterable loathing (hate!). I attempted to flee silently from its dreaded presence.
What added, no doubt, to my hatred of the beast, was the discovery, on the morning after I had brought it home that, like Pluto, this cat had also been deprived of one of its eyes!
This circumstance, however, only endeared it to my wife, who, as I have said before, possessed in high degree, that humanity of feeling (which I had once possessed, but do no more); the source of many of my simplest and purest pleasures had once derived.
As my feelings against this cat grew stronger, it appeared that its feelings towards me did the same—but not to my liking. It followed my footsteps with a persistence that would be difficult to explain. Whenever I sat, it would crouch beneath my chair. When I got up to wakl, it would get between my feet & nearly trip me. As I attempted to get dressed for the day, it would dig its claws into my chest. At such times, although I longed to destroy it with a blow, I was yet withheld from doing so (partly by the memory of my former crime) but chiefly---let me admit it to you now— because I had a great fear of the beast!
(Why was I so afraid of this cat, you ask? Well, I am almost ashamed to admit--- yes, even in this felon’s cel;, I am almost ashamed to say—that the terror and horror with which the animal inspired me had been heighted by one of the merest illusions hardly even possible to conceive…)
… My wife had called attention, more than once, to the character of the white mark of fur on its chest (the only visible difference between this cat and Pluto). In the beginning, this mark appeared indefinite; but, by slow degrees, it became more and more obvious… It assumed a rigorous distinctness of an outline… It was now the representation of an object that I shudder to even name—and for this, above all, I hate, and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster had I dared… (So, what was this image, you ask?)
It was now, I say, the image of a hideous—of a ghastly thing—of the GALLOWS! Oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and Crime—of Agony and Death!
Despite my horror, this beast would never leave me. Neither by day nor by night, did I know the blessing of rest any more! During the day, it left me no moment alone. At night, I started waking up (every hour) from dreams of unutterable fears, only to find the hot breath of the thing upon my face, as it laid upon my heart as I slept!
Beneath the pressure of torments such as these, what little “goodness” remained in me could survive no longer. All the efforts I made to hold back the spirit of Corruption came to a hault. The moodiness of my usual temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind, and unfortunately for my uncomplaining wife (alas! She was the most patient!), she became the biggest sufferer.
One day she accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the cellar of the old building which our poverty compelled us to inhabit. The cat followed me down the steep steps and nearly caused me to trip and fall again. It exasperated me into madness!
Uplifting an axe, and forgetting in my wrath the childish dread which had controlled my hand, aimed a blow at the animal which, of course, would have proven instantly fatal had I hit it (like I had wished). But this blow was arrested by the hand of my wife. Infuriated even further by her interruption, into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain!
She fell dead upon the spot, without a groan. With the hideous murder accomplished, I then focused myself (disappointedly) on the task of how to conceal the body.
I knew that I couldn’t remove the body from the house, either by day or night, without the risk of someone seeing me. Many other ideas entered my mind too. At one thought I considered cutting up the corpse into minute fragments and destroying them by fire. At another, I resolved to dig a grave for it in the floor of the celler. Again, I deliberated about casting in the well of the yard—about packing it in a box, as if merchandise, with the usual arrangements, and so getting a mailman to take it from the house. Finally, I hit upon what I considered to be a better expedient than either of these.
I determined to wall it up in the cellar—as the monks of the middle ages are recorded to have walled up their victims.
For a purpose such as this the cellar was well adapted. Its walls were loosely constructed, and had lately been plastered throughout with a rough plaster, which the dampness of the atmosphere prevented from hardening. I made no doubt that I could easily remove the bricks at a certain point of the wall where a false chimney had been built, insert the corpse, and wall the hole up as was before, so that no eye could detect anything suspicious. …I was right. It was easy. I re-laid the whole structure as it originally stood, and prepared plaster that couldn’t be differentiated from the original plaster.
When I had finished, I felt satisfied that all was right. The wall did not present the slightest appearance of having been disturbed. The rubbish on the floor was picked up with the minutest care. I looked around triumphantly, and said to myself, “Here at least, then, my labor has not been in vain.” My next step was to look for the beast which has been the cause of so much wretchedness; for I had, at length, firmly resolved to put it to death.
If I could only have found it, I would’ve been able to fulfill my deed, but it appeared that the crafty animal had decided to hide from me—probably as a result of witnessing my previous violence and anger. It is impossible to describe, or to imagine, the extent of how wonderful the deep, blissful sense of relief I felt due to the absence of that dreadful creature laying on my chest at night. It didn’t make its appearance during the night—and thus for one night at least, since its introduction into the house, I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept even with the burden of murder upon my soul!
The second and third day passed, and still my tormenter came not. Once again I breathed as a free man. The monster, in terror, had fled the premises forever! I should behold it no more! My happiness was supreme! The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little. Some few inquiries had been made, but these had been readily answered. Even a search had been instituted to find my wife—but of course, nothing was to be discovered. I looked upon my future felicity as secured.
Upon the fourth day of the assassination, the party of the police came, very unexpectedly, into the house, and proceeded to make rigorous investigation of the premises. Confident, however, in my attempts to conceal the body, I felt no embarrassment or concern. The officers requested that I accompany them in their search, so I did.
They left no nook or corner unexplored. At length, for the third or fourth time, they descended into the cellar. I quivered not a muscle. I walked the cellar from end to end. I folded my arms upon my bosom, and roamed easily to and fro. The police were thoroughly satisfied and prepared to leave.
The glee at my heart was too strong to be restrained. I couldn’t resist saying just a word or two (by way of triumph), to taunt them for being unable to confirm their suspicion of my guiltiness. (mwah ha ha) “Gentlemen,” I said at last, as the police began to climb upstairs. “I delight to have allayed your suspicions. I wish you all health, and a little more courtesy next time. By the bye, gentlemen, this—this is a very well constructed house!” (mwah ha ha)
[In the rabid desire to say something easily, I scarcely knew what I uttered at all.]... “I may say an excellently well- constructed house. These walls—are you going, gentlemen?—these walls are solidly put together…” And here, here is where I went wrong.
Through the frenzy of my bravado, I tapped heavily, with a cane which I had been holding my hand, on the very portion of the brick-work behind which had stood the corpse of my wife…
But may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch-Fiend! No sooner had the reverberation of my blows sunk into the silence, was I answered in a voice from within the tomb! By a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman--a howl--a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the dammed in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation! Sound Sample
I can’t even explain to you what I thought or felt at that moment. Swooning, I staggered to the opposite wall. For one instance the Police party upon the stairs remained motionless, through extremity of terror and of awe. In the next moment, a dozen stout arms were toiling at the wall. It fell easily. The corpse, already greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators. Upon the head of my wife’s corpse, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire…
…sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing howl had consigned me to the gallows, myself. I had walled the monster up within the tomb!
And that’s the story of yesterday, to explain why I’m here today, awaiting my inevitable fate to come… tomorrow.