Themes and Symbols in “The Black Cat”

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for The Black Cat

Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in The Black Cat


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Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the story, and support their choices with details from the text.

“The Black Cat” Themes to Look For and Discuss

Guilt and Judgment

The narrator is plagued with guilt over his actions against his wife, his pets, and eventually Pluto. He himself knows that he is an alcoholic and out of control, but he cannot get hold of his misery, nor overcome his depression. Eventually, he knows that he will be judged for his actions, deep down inside, and acknowledges that he commits these acts of violence to seal his eternal damnation in Hell once and for all.

The Effects of Alcoholism

The effects of the narrator’s battle with alcoholism include not only violence, but a loss of himself. He knows he is undergoing a personality change, and looking back, he can see the clouded thinking and judgment that led him to make rash and terrible decisions against Pluto, his wife, and the black and white cat. He finds himself unable to control his emotions, and unable to climb out of his despair, falling back into the cycle that ultimately leads to his own death.

Domestic Violence

The story brings light to the cycle of domestic violence that often accompanies a disease like alcoholism. Unable to deal with his own feelings of unhappiness, the narrator takes his rage out on his wife and his pets. This is not uncommon for people who abuse alcohol and have issues with their temper. The families are often the routine victims of the alcoholic’s blackouts and paranoia. For whatever reason, the wife stays with the narrator, and this decision highlights of the most dangerous consequences of domestic violence: her murder at the hands of her husband.

“The Black Cat” Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

The Apparition

The apparition, or burned image, of Pluto hanging from a noose that is burned into the plaster of the wall of the house frightens the narrator. While he knows that there must be some sort of logical explanation for it, he also realizes that there is reason to be fearful of the chain of events that have occurred since he killed the cat: the fire in which he loses everything, and now the image of this cat and his terrible deed are imprinted on the wall of his home.

The Black and White Cat

At first, the black and white cat seems like a chance to make up for what he did to Pluto. However, as soon as he gets him home and sees that he, too, is missing an eye, the narrator is again riddled with guilt and becomes fearful. He sees himself as undeserving of the cat’s affection, and begins to view him as a threat. Indeed, the white patch on the cat’s chest begins to resemble a gallows, which the narrator knows he deserves. The cat ultimately brings justice and judgment to the narrator by helping the police discover her body.

The Cellar

The cellar is a place where the plaster is soft, and allows the narrator to quickly wall up his wife’s body without worrying about her being discovered. He is so satisfied with himself for coming up with the idea to hide her there that he sleeps in relative peace for days. Coupled with the absence of the black and white cat, the narrator is almost gleeful as he walks around the cellar with the police, knowing they’ll never find her. He sees the cellar as a place of peace and tranquility compared to what he’s been battling in his own mind for many years.

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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in “The Black Cat”. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from “The Black Cat” you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.

Template: Theme


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