Unity of Effect in Scene Settings in The Black Cat


校园英语·下旬 2017年8期


【Abstract】The unity of effect is one of the most famous theories by Edgar Allan Poe. He insisted that a certain unique or single effect was to be wrought out before writing a story; the scene settings should be united for this kind of effect and the final goal of literature was the entire union of aesthetic in both theory and practice. In this paper, I will analyze how the scenes in The Black Cat were united to express the preset “terror” theme.

【Key words】The unity of effect; The Black Cat; terror; role and scene settings

Ⅰ. Introduction

Edgar Allan Poe wrote in The Review of Hawthornes Twice-Told Tales: “If wise, he (a skillful literary artist) has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents.”

Our common sense that narrators use specific scenes and characters to create a kind of feeling is upside-down. The effect or feeling that narrators attempt to achieve come first, then narrators should create appropriate ways to express such kind of effect or feeling. In this way, the characters and scenes become auxiliary means or sub products of preset effect.

Allan Poe used this theory in his short story The Black Cat. Poe meant to bring terror to the readers, so all the scenes in the story should be united to the “terror” theme.

Ⅱ. Analysis of Scene Settings

Terror comes from things that are unknown, from ones meet with what he fear or regret, from the moment when the impossible things in ones mind becomes possible. Poe controlled those elements in the scene settings in this story.

2.1 The Fire

On the night of the day on which the narrator killed Pluto, his house was on fire. The servant, his wife and himself managed to escape from the conflagration but the house was in ruin with a wall as exception. On that wall there was the figure of a gigantic cat. Like the second cats loss of its eye, there was no explanation of the reason for the fire and the cat-like reflection on that wall, which could have been the core questions after a fire. The lack of reason made the event become mystery only. The use of this scene aimed to create something unknown to give terror.

2.2 The Narrators Meet with the Pluto-like Cat

It is human nature that they tend to avoid those objects which will cause the guilty feeling. For the narrator, he felt (at least he said he felt) guilty and regretted to kill his cat. In this case, his action was strange when he met the Pluto-like cat. He touched the cat, loved it and decided to purchase it, but he hated that cat as soon as they got home.

For readers, since we knew the narrator murdered his first cat but bought another black cat again, we knew something would happen soon though we tended to avoid seeing it again.

As a result, when the black cat appeared in a den of more than infamy, both readers and the narrator feared because they had seen what they feared or regretted. Such kind of meet also rose terror feeling.

2.3 The Cats Crying in the Wall

The narrator thought the black cat fled from the house and his hiding place of his wifes body was perfect. It seemed as if his secret would never be found out, so he showed the police his house with confidence. He was proud until he knocked at the wall to laugh at the stupid people who he thought could never figure out the truth. They heard a cry which was “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”. This was the climax of the whole story. Both the readers and the characters in the story were scared because they didnt expect the situation. In other words, without the discovery of the cat in the wall at the end of the story, it seemed as if the wall was answering them. What they thought impossible came true at that moment, which became a raw material for terror.

Ⅲ. Conclusion

The black cat was a masterpiece by Edgar Allan Poe in horror fiction field. Poe meant to express terror in the story, so he created the scenes which were all related to terror. The information of the fire in the narrators house was inadequate, which led to the unknown to the truth. Also when the Pluto–like cat showed up in the story, readers and the narrator saw what they were unwilling to see again. In addition, the cats crying in the wall was out of expectation. The three raw materials of terror were controlled by Allan Poe. He had proved his theory of unity of effect.


[1]Edgar Allan Poe,Selected Short Stories by Edgar Allan Poe.







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