The Death and Darkness of the Black Cat Trope

Black cats have been a trope throughout the media and literature for many years. I’m sure you have heard the saying that if a black cat crosses your path, it is a sign that death or misfortune is coming your way. But why are black cats representative of bad omens, evil, darkness, death, night, or fear? I have found three examples that I believe capture many of the emotions and associations we hold with the black cat and display why this trope has such strong roots in history.

“The Black Cat” Book Cover, Shannon Press/Edgar Allen Poe, 2016

The first example is a book cover for Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Black Cat,” first published in 1843 and redone in 2016 (Poe). The background is solid black, and the only two other colors are white and red. There is a house with surrounding trees that make up the body of a cat, and the moon. The words “The Black Cat” are written in a serif font, and Edgar Allan Poe’s name runs across the top of the cover. Here the black cat is representing an evil being that is looming over the narrator’s house. The moon represents the cat’s eye, and thus, we as an audience understand that it is night and further associate the black cat with darkness and fear. The choice of red as the accompanying color to the black background creates the feeling of alarm to make the cat associated with death and pain. This all correlates to the black cat’s character within the short story as he causes the narrator pain, fear, and ultimately his own death.

Black cats have represented death for many years throughout history long before they did in the Edgar Allan Poe story. There was a prehistoric fear of large, carnivorous cats, and thus, for survival these cats were associated with death and had to be feared (Lin).  Beginning in the Middle Ages, people in Europe where very superstitious due to their limited scientific understanding and because of various religious beliefs. During this time, evil qualities were assigned to the black cat and the belief that death would soon occur if a black cat crossed your path was installed in Norman and Germanic people (Lin). Additionally, people developed the idea that black cats were sent by the devil to help witches complete their evil tasks and that witches could even transform into black cats to allow them to cast spells in disguise (Lin). Because of this, many innocent women and black cats were killed and, as a consequence, the population of mice rose and contributed to the horror of the Black Death (Lin). I believe that the innocent killings and the mass death experienced in the witch hunts and Black Plague created a long-lasting connection with black cats and death among the population, and thus, is why we carry this connection with us today in the twenty first century.

“Mars Milky Way Ad,”, Mars, 1954 Source:

With the development of the connection between witches and black cats, it correlates that the animal soon became representative of Halloween. This next example is from a Mars Milky Way candy bar advertisement from 1954 (“Halloween Candy Ads from the 1950s and 1960s”). In this ad, the viewer is presented with a brown paper bag that is overflowing with apples, oranges, nuts, and Milky Way bars. The bag is decorated with a grinning black cat, whose smile is created by the words “Trick or Treats.” This is a much more harmless use of the black cat trope, but nonetheless, the cat is still representing Halloween which is a dark holiday that involves themes of fear and death. Here the black cat makes the audience feel as if Milky Way bars are the perfect candy for trick-or-treaters. Milky Ways are being directly associated with the “spirit of Halloween.” To further tie in this connection, a pun on the word “Kiddie” is used as it is similar to the phrase “Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty.” The candy bars are named the “best-liked chocolate-covered candy bar in all the world” which certainly means that they would attract the trick-or-treaters. Without the representation of the black cat with Halloween, this ad and pun would not be possible or be an effective marketing strategy.

“Le Chat Noir – Halloween Witch,”
Gravityx9, 2014 Source:–halloween-witch_greeting-cards?productId=1403836417.


The final example I found is a Halloween greeting card from Cafepress that was designed by Gravityx9 in 2014. The card has a solid white background, with a black cat that has a witch hat and broom. The cat is accompanied by a carved pumpkin, that also has a witch hat, bats, and a large moon. Here, again, we see the same themes that have long since been represented by the black cat: witches, evil, darkness, and fear. In today’s society, this black cat with a witch hat is equivalent to a Christmas tree on a Christmas card. The black cat is representing Halloween, and greeting the recipient of the card in a spooky way. Because of the large scale of the cat as compared to the pumpkin, the designer effectively makes the viewer feel that the cat is actually a witch, and we see the trope that black cats are witches. The posture of the cat may look familiar to some of you, as it is the same as the cat seen on the ad for the most famous French cabaret that was called “Le Chat Noir” or “The Black Cat” (Brouwer, Marilyn, et al. ).  This cabaret also used the black cat to represent darkness and mischief. The cat on this card is definitely less friendly than in the cat in the previous example, and thus we see how the black cat has grown from purely representing evil to being able to represent Halloween in both an evil and welcoming way. The black cat trope allows this card to be effective in expressing Halloween greetings to someone without even using words, which is a testimony to the strong association of the dark, spooky, and fearful meanings we hold with the black cat.



References and Photo Sources

Brouwer, Marilyn, et al. “Le Chat Noir: Historic Montmartre Cabaret.” Bonjour Paris, 20 Nov. 2015,

“Halloween Candy Ads from the 1950s and 1960s.” Me-TV Network,

“Le Chat Noir – Halloween Witch Greeting Cards on” CafePress,–halloween-witch_greeting-cards?productId=1403836417.

Lin, Kimberly. “Black Cat Superstition: Good and Bad Luck Beliefs.” Historic Mysteries, Historic Mysteries, 29 Oct. 2018,

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Black Cat by Allan Poe – Kindle Edition by Edgar Allan Poe. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle EBooks @” Amazon, Amazon,