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March 2014: March Macabre: Poe vs Dahl

Discussion in 'Book of the Month' started by Meadow337, Feb 13, 2014.

  1. Gita V.Reddy

    Gita V.Reddy Active Member

    Apr 8, 2013
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    Two short stories for the whole month, and some very eager person jumps the gun :p so I'll take it slowly and try to make it last.

    I'll make this post only about the first story.

    Mary Maloney loves her husband and goes to a lot of effort to make her home a comfortable and pleasant one. Meadow said she spends her life playing a role. That is true; as true it is of any person. Today, a career woman multitasking could also be playing a role. After a point, she may not want to do it all but she continues because that is a role society /family expects her, a smart woman, to play. The better she plays the role, the more she believes in it.

    If Mary was playing happy families, she believed in it wholeheartedly. She had reason to also. Patrick was home punctually, they shared a drink, talked after his first drink was over, went out every Thursday, and most important, she was carrying his child.

    I don't think Mary was playing a role. I think she was genuinely happy in her marriage and she loved her husband, and looked after his comforts.

    So she went into shock when Patrick told her he would leave her and callously added, But there needn't really be any fuss. I hope not anyway. It wouldn't be very good for my job."

    Still in a state of shock and disbelief, she goes to prepare the meal. She isn't really thinking; her actions are automatic. But when he rejects her a second time, by telling her he was going out, she hits out. He is looking out and she strikes. It is an impulse; it is not in cold blood.

    She would have cooked the lamb, if he had not said, "For God's sake," he said, hearing her, but not turning round. "Don't make supper for me. I'm going out."

    Until this point, the author tells us, she is in shock.
    The violence of the crash, the noise, the small table overturning, helped bring her out of he shock. She came out slowly, feeling cold and surprised, and she stood for a while blinking at the body, still holding the ridiculous piece of meat tight with both hands.

    She realizes she had committed a heinous crime and is prepared to hang but there is the child she is carrying.
    she knew quite well what the penalty would be. That was fine. It made no difference to her. In fact, it would be a relief. On the other hand, what about the child?

    Whatever she does after that is to save the child. She is the wife of a detective. She knows about alibis and disposing off weapons and uses this knowledge to save her child.

    For me the most important sentence of the story is the last sentence; it makes the story open ended.

    And in the other room, Mary Maloney began to giggle.

    Does she turn hysterical and confess?

    SuperReaderGirl, Peder and pontalba like this.
  2. Peder

    Peder Well-Known Member

    Aug 25, 2005
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    Gita: Great analysis!
    Re Poe: Sorry but not for me; mistreating the livestock barely readable, but maiming Pluto tore it.
    So 'til next month, . . .
    or shudders.
    pontalba likes this.
  3. Meadow337

    Meadow337 Former Moderator

    Mar 20, 2013
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    Yes ... Poe is rather .... shudders.

    Gita ....

    Certainly a valid interpretation, and certainly the one I had the first time I read, actually I think I was even more sympathetic to her than that. I was cheering her on! But coming back to now, after the intervening years I had a totally different response.
  4. Gita V.Reddy

    Gita V.Reddy Active Member

    Apr 8, 2013
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    Poe: The Black Cat

    I have never known what to make of this story. For that matter, I have never been able to decide whether I like Poe.

    The narrator states he is not mad and the tale, which inspires him with terror and tortures him, is merely a series of household events. He was gentle, humane, a great lover of animals, but over the years he turned into an alcoholic. His nature changed, rather degenerated, and combined with what Poe calls the natural perverseness of human beings, he kills his pet cat.

    (Poe defines this aspect at length: And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of PERVERSENESS. Of this spirit philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart - one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not? Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law , merely because we understand it to be such? This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself - to offer violence to its own nature - to do wrong for the wrong's sake only - that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute).

    The story changes after this. From here (in spite of the assertion that he is not mad), the conclusion I draw is that his crime has deranged him. For someone who loved animals so much, the bestial crime he has committed under the influence of liquor has driven him to madness.

    The house burns down but the image of a cat remains on a wall; a second cat resembling the first cat appears, and develops a patch like the gallows. The image of the cat on the wall represents (I think) the crime he is unable to forget, and the second cat that follows him everywhere is his own guilt. Obviously it is not a real cat because it rapidly changes appearance.

    Day and night, the man is tormented by the black cat (guilt) and self hatred (?).

    Beneath the pressure of torments such as these, the feeble remnant of the good within me succumbed. Evil thoughts became my sole intimates - the darkest and most evil of thoughts. The moodiness of my usual temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind; while, from the sudden, frequent, and ungovernable outbursts of a fury to which I now blindly abandoned myself, my uncomplaining wife, alas! was the most usual and the most patient of sufferers

    Finally, he murders his wife, walls up her body in the cellar, and when the body is discovered, the black cat is found with the body.

    I think it is significant that Poe does not mention that the man was under the influence of liquor when he committed the second crime.

    What do I make out of the story? It is difficult to read, not at all pleasant, and Poe goes out of his way to make the man disgusting. If he went to the trouble to create a vote for temperance, he succeeds!
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2014
  5. JCBC

    JCBC New Member

    May 7, 2013
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    Currently Reading:
    The Boys in the Boat
    I had read Black Cat before, but enjoyed both stories. I had some issues with commas, fragments, and tense with Dahl. Maybe the copy here isn't the original? He wouldn't say "She know them both" would he? Anyway, both stories portray the arrogance of the murderers and their belief that they are home free. Poe, of course, delves into the darkest side, while Dahl shows a more gentle woman reacting in a fit of rage. I think these days, the coroner would find flecks of lamb in the wound, though. But it's still a good story.

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