We contend that the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe's “The Black Cat” is horrified not only by the way his reason degenerates over the course of the tale but also by the increasingly passive, feminized figure that he feels he has become. In short, we argue that his terror develops not only from a perceived loss of mind but also of manhood. An allusion in the tale to Henry Fuseli's The Nightmare, which Poe almost certainly knew about, is a cipher of sorts, an important clue to help readers understand the terror the narrator experiences in “The Black Cat.” Fuseli's painting depicts an incubus sitting on the chest of a sleeping woman, filling the spectator with a sense of terror. A similar reaction occurs when reading “The Black Cat.” Like the narrator, who believes an innocent cat is actually a demon sent to torture him, readers are horrified by the gender reversal which Poe portrays. Poe exploits masculine gender constructs which claim that the distinguishing characteristic of men is their heightened ability to reason by showing a man completely at the mercy of his passions and instincts, just as the sleeping woman in Fuseli's painting is held captive by the perverse imp. If the reader is unaware of Fuseli's painting, or does not grasp Poe's clever reversal of gender roles in the story, then this horror remains shrouded in mystery.

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