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Repression, Guilt, And The Subconscious Transference Of Identity In The Tell Tale Heart, Morella, And The Black Cat

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Many of Edgar Allan Poe’s works discuss the importance of mental health and the factors that might hinder the mind’s function and well-being. The Boston born writer is notorious for his cultivation of literary pieces that include elements of mystery and macabre. Writer Julian Symons believes that “the qualities that make Poe’s horror stories… unique in their kind are not to be found in plotting, characterization or style”; it is that “Poe is spelling out his personal agonies in fictional terms” (Symons 210). ​Death is a favored topic of Poe’s that he incorporates into many of his stories​. Many of Poe’s short stories are thematically similar even though their plots vary. One of Poe’s most famous accounts, ​The Tell- Tale Heart​, depicts a tortured narrator who is driven to murder while ​The Black Cat ​analyzes the impactful effect profuse resentment can have on one’s actions. Nonetheless, ​Morella ​which examines the concept of metempsychosis consists of comparable matters relating to psychiatry and sanity (Peithman 39). Each narrative includes how one’s morality can be considerably affected by emotions and or even the absence of them. The ruinous and overwhelming influence repression, the subconscious transference of identity, and guilt can have on one’s conscience are demonstrated in Edgar Allan Poe’s ​The Tell-Tale Heart, Morella, and The Black Cat.

The Tell-Tale Heart, Morella,​ and ​The Black Cat ​explore the destructive impact repression can have on one’s psyche and how it then can result in irrational and unjust behavior. In the ​Tell-Tale Heart​, the narrator engages in self-imposed emotional repression because of the 1 illusory subjection he formulates in his own mind. The narrator never reveals what relationship, if any, exists between him and the old man who presumably live together exclusively (Hoffman 25). One of the most distinguishable, and most disturbing according to the narrator, aspects of the man’s appearance is his, what the narrator entitles, the Evil Eye. To the narrator, the eye “resembles that of a vulture- a pure blue eye, with a film over it” (Peithman 135). The Evil Eye vexes the narrator to such an extent that eventually he took “the life of the old man, and thus rid [himself] of the eye for ever” (Peithman 135). Throughout Poe’s literary catalogue, in other instances, a vulture is associated with time which is then affiliated with morality. Moreover, the Evil Eye signifies the severe reproaches of conscience and reminds the narrator of his subjection to time, age, death, and his own unbearable mortality. If he could rid himself of the eye, he would be liberated from its all-seeing scrutiny, ethics, and fatality (Hoffman 26). The narrator does not have a just motive that prompts him to kill the old man. He claimed to love the old man, but as a result of his repression of his fondness, he was overcome by the desire to murder him (Hoffman 25). Poe’s ​Morella​ analyzes sexual repression in addition to emotional. The narrator asserts that he does not experience fondness for his own wife, Morella, and therefore, is inhibiting his sentiments. The narrator was initially and solely attracted to Morella because of “her powers of mind” and her profound erudition (Peithman 40). She, in return, exhibited sincere admiration and devotion to her husband while he disallows himself from returning her passion.

Poe never indicates the gender of the narrator in any of these stories. In purposes of this document, the narrator will be referred to as “he”. He even denies his happiness by affirming it is a delusion and refuses to submit to his affections (Fukuchi 149). Furthermore, the narrator prohibits himself from surrendering to his carnal urges as well which additionally contributes to the complex relationship he shares, strangely enough, with his daughter (Fakuchi 152). Contrary from ​The Tell-Tale Heart​, the narrator’s repression does not result in a violent manner. Nevertheless, the conclusion of the ​The Black Cat ​is parallel to that of ​The Tell-Tale Heart ​even though their subject of repression differs. ​The Black Cat examines how cruel behavior might ensue one’s repression of impulses. Poe presumes that there is a human instinct to “do wrong for wrong’s sake” against sensible yearnings which is proven throughout the piece (Symons 211). Roberta Reeder considers the story “a study [of] self-delusion,… self justification [and the narrator’s] desire to abrogate responsibility for his actions” (Reeder). Reeder mentions that Jungian psychology would deem the actions committed by the narrator a matter of repression (Reeder). Carl Jung, who had taken an early interest in the unconscious, eventually developed his own interpretation of psychoanalytic theory (McLeod). In accordance with Jung’s conjecture, if the narrator in ​The Black Cat​ integrated rationality into his instinctual psychic energy rather than suppressing his urges, his actions would not have been uncontrollably destructive. As Pluto, the narrator’s feline companion, merely innocent and affectionate manner becomes intolerable to the narrator, the narrator struggles to express his irritation. Ultimately, however, as his instinctual urges resurface, the more he desperately tries to suppress them which then results in severe acts of violence (Reeder). All of these Poe stories, despite varying in plot, illustrate the damaging effect repression can have on one’s conscience and produce a culmination of immorality.

The subconscious transference of identity throughout ​The Tell-Heart, Morella, ​and ​The Black Cat ​establish how significant of an impact the mind can have on perspective. In Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart​, the narrator perceives the Evil Eye as a father or even god-like figure. From the narrator’s viewpoint, the eye is considered pansophical which immensely disturbs the narrator. Correspondingly, Hoffman supposes that the origin of a child’s conscience is the result of the ingraining of ethical paternal principles into the soul. He continues to claim that a child most likely fears a father when she or he suspects the father has discovered her or him engaging in self pleasure (Hoffman 26). In response to the narrator’s distress of being viewed, he decides to murder the old man, more specifically, the Evil Eye. He longs that the old man suffers to a comparable amount, therefore, he formulates a disturbing procedure that would ultimately result in his demise. Hoffman infers that the narrator consciously chose to suffocate the old man because one’s ability to breathe is equivalent to one’s sexual impotence. Moreover, in striking the old man, the narrator is expunging the possible observation of his own sexual misdemeanors from the Evil Eye (Hoffman 28). While the subconscious transference of identity in ​The Tell-Tale Heart ​prompts homicidal deeds, the narrator’s actions in ​Morella ​culminate in a contrasting manner of disturbing behavior. The concept of metempsychosis, the passage of the soul from one body to another, is prominent in ​Morella​ (Peithman 39). When Morella suddenlybecomes ill of an uninformed disease, she decides to reveal to her husband that she is bearing a child. As a consequence of Morella’s lack of attention from her husband, she predicts as she is giving birth to their daughter that he will love the baby out of regret for not showing affection towards her. Morella ultimately dies while she is in labor and the narrator becomes the sole caregiver of the unnamed infant (Fukuchi 152). As his relationship with his daughter deepends, he claims to have “loved her with a love more fervent than [he] had believed it possible to feel for any denizen of earth” (​ABC​). The narrator quickly becomes entranced and sincerely considers his fondness and attachment he has towards his daughter to be genuine when in actuality it is completely artificial. Comparatively, both of the narrators in ​Morella​ and ​The Black Cat ​transfer the identities of their wives onto other beings.

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Particular, the narrator in ​The Black Cat​ begins to perceive that his wife has supernaturally assumed the role of their beloved feline, Pluto. Critic Daniel Hoffman claims with further evidence, it leads him “to suggest that in the synoptic and evasive glossary of the tale [that the wife is a witch]. Ergo, [the black cat is the wife]” (“​Analysis – “The Black Cat (1843)​”). . Hoffman goes on to emphasize that the narrator’s impressions of Pluto are apparent, but his attitude towards his wife is not and if so, is barely mentioned. Correspondingly, the narrator is confronted with intemperance which furthers his inability to express his emotions in a sound manner. He shortly becomes an alcoholic and begins to demonstrate abusive behavior towards his wife and Pluto. Out of fear, the narrator’s actions become more irrational and extreme. Despite being sober, he still does not experience remorse for his misconducts because of his sincere belief that his wife and Pluto are supernatural beings. In reference to his instinctual repression, his acts of violence increase in severity. In due course, the narrator hangs Pluto as well as murder his wife without a trace of regret (“​Analysis – “The Black Cat (1843)​”). With one motion, he successfully removed “from his life both the real and surrogate source of his terror” (​ABC​). As a result of the narrator’s persistent assurance that both his wife and Pluto are witches, he behaves illogically and savagely. Throughout these Edgar Allan Poe literary compositions, the narrators’ subconscious transference of identities does not only immensely damage their conscience, but can generate violent and wrongful behavior.

Edgar Allan Poe exhibits how profusely detrimental of an effect guilt can have on one’s conscience throughout ​The Tell-Tale Heart, Morella​, and ​The Black Cat​. Due to only the narrator’s viewpoint being depicted in ​The Tell-Tale Heart​, it is unspecified if others are aware of the old man’s eye. Regarding the narrator’s subconscious transference of identity, the Evil Eye’s existence can be considered a figure of the narrator’s imagination that he attributes with his guilt. The night of the murder, the old man awakened and uttered a slight murmur that was not of pain or grief, but was a “low stifled sound that [arose] from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe… [the narrator] knew it well” (​ABC​). As a result of the familiar emotion he experienced himself, he becomes eager to complete the slaughter of the Evil Eye that generates such a substantial amount of anguish. As he approaches the old man, he apprehends “a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton” (​ABC​). In reference to the narrator’s subjection to time, the representation of it through the man’s chest pulsations as well as the Evil Eye’s resemblance to a vulture reminds the narrator that the man’s homicide will reprieve him of the concept. Once he executes the murder, he slices the corpse and deposits the fragments underneath the floorboards. Neighbors who perceive the noise that occurs during the act, retrieve the police who then go to the narrator’s residence. The narrator then explains that the clamor was his own which transpired in a dream. He invites the police inside while affirming the old man is away. As the narrator and the officers converse, the narrator’s mind begins to ache and his ears are pervaded with a continuous buzzing (Hoffman 28). The narrator presumes he is listening to the palpitating of the old man’s heart when in actuality it is his own that is hammering. He is never truly released from the Evil Eye’s influence as long as he is alive because of the lasting guilt the narrator experiences (Hoffman 29). Similarly in ​Morella​, the narrator is confronted by an identical emotion of self-reproach.

After rejecting his wife’s affection out of fear, he later projects his absence of fondness he had for his spouse onto their daughter out of guilt. The narrator’s sentiments for the unnamed child is deceptive and synthetic even though he suspects that his emotions were sincere. As the child develops her resemblance to Morella increases and therefore begins to detect similar traces of anxiety that he suffered through when his wife was still alive (Fukuchi 152). He suddenly discovers that their alikeness is “food for consuming thought and horror- for a worm that would not die” (​ABC​). The narrator originally allows himself to express his fondness towards his daughter, but as she aged into an attractive woman that mirrored her mother, carnal urges began to ensue (Fukuchi 152). He seeks “deliverance from the terrors of his destiny” and from the guilty sorrow his wife predicted and perhaps his own inhospitable rationality (​ABC​). Moreover, compelled by his wife’s underlying presence, he raises the daughter as a replacement of Morella. Consequently, because of the narrator’s transference of identity, he destroys the identity of the living by projecting onto his daughter the identity of the deceased (Fukuchi 154). Comparatively, Poe’s ​The Tell-Tale Heart similarly to ​Morella ​discusses the disastrous effect the mind can have and contort one’s sense of reality. Through the narrator’s repression of his impulses in ​The Black Cat, ​he engages in violent acts such as hanging Pluto because he was so irritated by the innocent feline’s adoring behavior.

The narrator then encounters another black cat who is an exact duplicate of the departed Pluto. He then notices on the cat’s breast, a figurement of the gallows (Symons 211). Author Julian Symons avows that Pluto’s doppelganger is indirectly responsible for the homicide of the narrator’s wife. In accordance with ​The Tell-Tale Heart​, only the narrator’s perspective is depicted in ​The Black Cat ​as well, therefore, it is uncertain if the wife envisions the new Pluto in a similar manner. Due to the presence and appearance of Pluto’s impersonator, the narrator’s loathing for the feline and his wife increases until ultimately he tortures both. Throughout ​The Tell-Tale Heart, Morella, ​and ​The Black Cat​, Poe demonstrates the pernicious impact guilt can have on one’s mind through the disturbing actions of the narrators.

Edgar Allan Poe’s ​The Tell-Tale Heart, Morella​, and ​The Black Cat ​illustrate how damaging repression, the subconscious transference of identity, and guilt can be to one’s conscience. Many of Poe’s literary pieces discuss the importance of mental stability and sanity. Even though the plots of these stories vary, each demonstrate the destructive nature one can have on one’s own mind. Poe’s ​The Tell-Tale Heart ​analyzes how the suppression of one’s emotions can result in violent behavior and considerable amounts of guilt that will burder one’s soul. In Morella​, the narrator’s artificial affection he exhibits towards his daughter is a consequence of his restrained sentiments he refused to express to his departed wife. Due to his latent transference of identity, he sincerely supposed that his fondness was genuine and did not arise out from self-condemnation. Conclusively, the narrator in ​The Black Cat ​who contains his instinctual urges ultimately engages in extreme acts of brutality. Consequently, his guilt prompts him to visualize crude images that remind him of his doings. Poe demonstrates the ruinous effect of when each element combines to produce instability in one’s conscience which then can destroy one’s sense of morality.

Works Cited

  1. “Analysis – “The Black Cat” (1843)” Amerlit,​. Accessed 26 April 2019.
  2. Bloom​, Harold, editor. ​Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations: “The Tell-Tale Heart” and Other Stories – New Edition.​ Infobase, 2009.
  3. Fukuchi, Curtis. “Repression and Guilt in Poe’s “Morella”.” ​Studies in Short Fiction,​ vol. 24, no. 2, Spring 1987, pp. 148-154,​. Accessed 22 April 2019.
  4. Hoffman, Daniel. “Grotesques and Arabesques.” Bloom, pp.9-29. McLeod, Saul. “Carl Jung.” Simply Psychology, 21 May, 2018,​. Accessed 27 April 2019.
  5. Reeder, Roberta. “‘The Black Cat’ as a Study in Repression.” ​Poe Studies​, Vol. VII, no. 1, June 1974, pp. 20-22, ​​. Accessed 27 April 2019.
  6. Stephen Peithman, editor. ​The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Avenel Books, 1986.
  7. Symons, Julian. ​The Tell-Tale Heart: The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe.​ Harper & Row, New York, NY, 1978.

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Repression, Guilt, And The Subconscious Transference Of Identity In The Tell Tale Heart, Morella, And The Black Cat. (2021, September 22). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from
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