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My dad liked teaching suspense. When I was 4-years-old, he'd turn off the lights, hide behind the couch, and scare me as I walked by. One day, I was carrying an axe up the cellar stairs. He thought he'd do the old "teaching suspense by hiding behind the couch, turning off the lights, and scaring my son" trick. That's when I buried the axe into his skull. I then drained his blood, chopped him up, and buried him under the floor boards of my bedroom. Don't tell my Mom. She thinks the old guy ran off with the woman down the street who also disappeared (I walled her up in the catacombs under my house).
Teaching 'The Black Cat" reminded me of those incidents.
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Notes on Teaching Suspense
Before reading and teaching "The Black Cat," I have students copy the following notes:
- suspense: anxiety or apprehension resulting from an uncertain, undecided, or mysterious situation
- pacing: advancing or developing something at a particular rate or tempo
- It takes a while to discover exactly what happened to that cat the narrator killed.
- dangerous action: self explanatory
- The narrator's violent moods creates trouble for everyone, including himself.
- foreshadowing: a literary device in which the author gives clues as to what will happen later
- We know the narrator has done something terrible. The story begins with him awaiting execution in a jail cell.
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- Copy the notes from the above section and discuss them. Provide examples.
- Read "The Black Cat".
- Make a chart for students to copy:
- Make four columns.
- Head each column as follows:
- Suspenseful Moment
- Dangerous Action
- Make at least five rows
- Instruct students to find at least five examples of suspenseful moments in the story;
- identify each moment as dangerous action, pacing, or foreshadowing;
- analyze the suspenseful moment in the appropriate column.
- Instruct students to write a paragraph or essay analyzing suspense. It can be done as a timed-writing or a formal academic essay. The following questions may help:
- How does Poe use foreshadowing to create suspense?
- How does the dangerous actions of the narrator establish an ominous mood?
- How does knowing the narrator is awaiting execution as the story begins make it more or less suspenseful?
- Another option is to write a Poe-like short narrative.
- Author's Experience