The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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The Black Cat Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Black Cat Include:

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” delivers all of the spooky elements that make a terrifying and haunting tale. This particular dark short story combines fear and guilt with brutality and violence, ultimately leading to the murder of the narrator’s wife. However, it also explores the themes of depths of the flaws in the human spirit, including battling with alcoholism, the dangers of domestic violence, and the ultimate judgment that follows the most heinous of sins. It also leaves the reader to wonder about the perverseness that lies within all of us, as the narrator suggests. Perhaps it is most terrifying to wonder if the narrator claims that this flaw lies within our own souls, are we also capable of committing such egregious acts of violence against those we love?

The Black Cat Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

“The Black Cat” Summary | Plot Diagram

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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and helps students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Example “The Black Cat” Plot Diagram


The narrator is telling his story as a condemned man, flashing back to the beginning. He was a peculiar boy, particularly fond of animals. He married young and his wife made sure they had many animals, especially one particularly large black cat named Pluto. The narrator confesses that he is an alcoholic, and this made him violent towards everyone – his wife and his pets, but he was able to keep himself from abusing Pluto.


One night, in a drunken stupor, the narrator thinks Pluto is avoiding him, so he seizes him and cuts out one of his eyes. He is ashamed in the present of his deed, but back then, his shame only lasted a short while. Pluto, of course, avoided the narrator and the narrator began to be irritated by this.

Rising Action

The narrator becomes so angry at Pluto’s avoidance that one day, he decides to hang him from a tree. Later that night, the narrator’s entire house burns down. The following day, the narrator visits the ruins of the house and finds on the one standing wall an image of a cat with a rope around its neck. The narrator explains it away, but is nonetheless shaken. He begins to search for a new cat, and finds a large black one with a white splotch on its chest at one of the taverns he frequents.


The cat follows the narrator home. The cat loves the narrator, and because of his guilt from past deeds, the narrator begins to loathe the cat. The cat is also missing an eye, like Pluto. The more the narrator avoids the cat, the more he follows him. The spot on his chest begins to resemble a gallows, frightening the narrator. One day, on the way to the cellar, the cat trips the narrator on the stairs and he raises an axe to kill him; he is stopped by his wife, and in a rage, he kills her with the axe instead.

Falling Action

The narrator walls his wife up within the wall of the cellar. The cat seems to have fled, and the narrator sleeps peacefully for the first time in a long time. Three or four days pass, and the police finally come to search the premises. The narrator, however, is unbothered because he knows they’ll never find his wife.


As the police are about to leave the cellar and the premises for good, the narrator takes his cane and raps on the cellar wall to boast about the construction of the house. At that moment, a wailing and screaming comes from behind the plaster. The police open the wall and find the narrator’s wife, along with the black and white cat, whom the narrator had accidentally walled up with her body.

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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of “The Black Cat”.

  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Literary Conflict Student Activity for “The Black Cat”

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Storyboarding is an excellent way to focus on types of literary conflicts.

Having students create storyboards that show the cause and effect of different types of conflicts strengthens analytical thinking about literary concepts. Have your students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict them using the storyboard creator. In the storyboard, an example of each conflict should be visually represented, along with an explanation of the scene, and how it fits the particular category of conflict.

Examples of Literary Conflict in “The Black Cat”


The narrator is battling alcoholism, which also sends him into rages of violence against his pets and his wife. After he gouges Pluto’s eye, he is wracked with guilt, which eventually turns to anger, leading him to hang Pluto. The guilt continues as he is unable to accept the affections of the second eyeless cat, and his anger continues to be an obstacle he cannot overcome.


The narrator is so confused, guilt-ridden, and miserable that he comes to see the cats as his enemies. The second cat does eventually get the better of the narrator, however, by revealing the murder of his wife, and finally bringing justice to the narrator’s evil deeds.


The narrator regularly takes out his anger and drunken violence on his wife, but when she tries to stop him from killing the black and white cat, she crosses a line that he will not stand for. In a rage, he kills her for stopping him from putting an end to his misery with the cat.

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in “The Black Cat”.

  1. Identify conflicts in “The Black Cat”.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Themes, Symbols, and Motifs Student Activity for “The Black Cat”

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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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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 "Use this Template" from the 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.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Finding Elements of Suspense Student Activity for “The Black Cat”

Suspense is a common technique for authors to use in order to make their narratives compelling and exciting, even right up to the very end. There are four common elements of suspense: setting, foreshadowing, pacing, and mystery or danger.

Have students create a storyboard that highlights each of these elements and explains how they are used to enhance the suspense in “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe.

Suspense in the “The Black Cat”


The setting of the story begins with the narrator, the day before he has been condemned to die. His home before the fire is nondescript, but it has a pretty garden. The narrator routinely hangs out in “haunts” or taverns, adding to the feeling of creepiness and violence he routinely brings home to his wife and pets. His home after the fire has a dark, dank cellar, perfect for concealing a body.


The strongest example of foreshadowing comes in the form of the black and white cat, who not only is missing an eye like Pluto, reminding the narrator of his violent act, but the white mark on his chest changes shape to look like a gallows. This foreshadows the judgment that will ultimately find the narrator.


The narrator is almost reluctant at first to tell his tale, because he doesn’t think that anyone will believe him. He then begins in his childhood, where he knew he was different than other children, and then he moves into the early years of his marriage. His pacing is slow and deliberate, ultimately leading to the reveal of how he wound up murdering his wife and being sentenced to death.

Mystery or Danger

The mystery of the apparition burned into the narrator’s wall of Pluto with the rope around his neck leads the reader to believe that the narrator has not seen the end of Pluto. In addition, the narrator’s violence in his drunkenness creates an atmosphere of volatility and unpredictability, which ultimately leads to his wife’s murder.

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Vocabulary Lesson Plan for “The Black Cat”

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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from “The Black Cat”. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the story, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

"The Black Cat" Vocabulary

  • baroques
  • phantasm
  • docility
  • sagacious
  • tinctured
  • vex
  • conflagration
  • bas-relief
  • pertinacity
  • premises
  • felicity
  • allayed
  • anomalous
  • rubbish
  • consigned

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in “The Black Cat” by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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The Cat Sith, or Cat Sidhe

A creature from Scottish and Irish mythology, the Cat Sith (Cat Sidhe, in Irish folklore), is a large black cat with a white spot on its chest, not unlike the cat Poe describes as coming into his narrator’s life after Pluto. The Cat Sith, in Scottish folklore, haunts the Highlands and may actually be a witch in disguise. The Cat Sith is believed to be able to steal a corpse’s soul before it could cross over into the next life. The Cat Sith is supposed to be as large as a dog, and attracted to warmth. Students may find this website to be an interesting resource for reading more about the legends and tales surrounding the Cat Sith.

Pluto, Roman God of the Underworld

Poe chooses to name the narrator’s original black cat Pluto, after the Roman god of the Underworld. It is not surprising, then, that the cat ultimately becomes the narrator’s tormentor in the form of his own guilt, and leads the narrator to make decisions that bring about his own demise.

Essential Questions for “The Black Cat”

  1. What are the dangers of alcoholism?
  2. What is the cycle of domestic violence?
  3. How can guilt manifest itself in the world around us?
  4. Is perverseness an essential quality of human nature?
  5. Can a person ever get away with a truly evil act, or are they always found out somehow?

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•   (English) The Black Cat   •   (Español) El Gato Negro   •   (Français) Le Chat Noir   •   (Deutsch) Die Schwarze Katze   •   (Italiana) Il Gatto Nero   •   (Nederlands) De Zwarte kat   •   (Português) O Gato Preto   •   (עברית) החתול השחור   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) القطة السوداء   •   (हिन्दी) काली बिल्ली   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Черная Кошка   •   (Dansk) The Black Cat   •   (Svenska) Den Svarta Katten   •   (Suomi) Black Cat   •   (Norsk) The Black Cat   •   (Türkçe) Siyah Kedi   •   (Polski) Czarny kot   •   (Româna) Pisica Neagra   •   (Ceština) The Black Cat   •   (Slovenský) Čierna Mačka   •   (Magyar) A Black Cat   •   (Hrvatski) Crna Mačka   •   (български) Черната Котка   •   (Lietuvos) Juoda Katė   •   (Slovenščina) The Black Cat   •   (Latvijas) Melnais Kaķis   •   (eesti) Must Kass