Essay, Research Paper: Cask Of Amontillado By Grimes

Literature: Anton Chekhov

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Thesis: The descriptive details in “The Cask of Amontillado” not only appeal
to the senses of the audience, but also show that the narrator has a memory that
has been haunted with details that he can recall fifty years later. I.
Introduction II. Auditory Appeal III. Humor Appeal IV. Visual Appeal V.
Conclusion Grimes 1 “The vividness with which [Poe] transcribes his sensory
experiences contributes powerfully to the response his stories invoke” (Fagin
202). In “The Cask of Amontillado,” Edgar Allan Poe uses captivating images
to descriptively tell a tail of revenge, while appealing to the senses of the
audience. In “The Cask of Amontillado,” Montressor seeks to have revenge on
Fortunato for an unknown insult. Montressor confesses at the beginning of the
story, “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but
when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge” (Lowell 214). Montresor wants
to “not only punish, but punish with impunity”(214). The nature of this
insult is not made clear; however, the reader is led to believe that the insult
changed Montresor’s social status. Montresor says to Fortunato “You are
rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was.” This leads
the reader to believe that Montresor once had high social status, but that
status has changed due to the insult by Fortunato. Fortunato, entering the scene
wearing a jesters costume, is unaware of Montesors’ evil intentions of murder.
Montresor persuades Fortunato, who prides “himself on his connoisseurship in
wine,” to go into the family vaults so he can taste and identify some
“Amontillado” (Lowell 215). Along the way Fortunato becomes extremely drunk
and unaware of Montresor’s evil plot of murder. Montresor then proceeds to
lead him through the catacombs and finally buries him alive behind a wall.
Montresor calls to Fortunato, but the only reply that he receives comes in the
“jingling of the bells” from Fortunato’s cap (222). Grimes 2 II. Auditory
Appeal The fact that the narrator mentions the “jingling of the bells”
several times after fifty years indicates that he is haunted with a memory of
their sound. Poe knew that the audience would relate the terrifying sound of the
bells to premature burial. Premature burial is a concern during the 19th century
when Poe writes this short story (Platizky 1). Live burial is practiced during
this time as a form of capital punishment in Europe (1). It was a “Rite of
social purification (2). “Being buried alive was the severe punishment for
sexual offenses and grand larceny (Van Dlumen 6). With Poe’s fear of being
buried alive these bells have a horrifying sound to him. Being buried alive is
such a fear during this time that many people (especially the wealthier classes)
have special coffins made (Platizky 1). These coffins have special “sounding
devices” so that if a person is buried alive they can set off this type of
alarm (1). Also, another common practice during this time involves the
“placing of bells on the limbs of the recently dead”(1). Poe uses the
horrifying sound of the bells to appeal to the auditory senses of the audience.
The sound of these bells has a freighting effect on the audience. Every time
Montresor takes special notice of the sound of the bells the audience is made
aware of the surrounding silence. “Poe knew well the electrifying effect of
sudden silence in the midst of revelry, revelry stages as escape from
intolerable fear. His silences are as eloquent as those of Chekhov, except that
the emotional lava with which Poe’s silences are charged is different”
(Fagin 202). His silences are “eloquent” because they alternate with
sound(202). Grimes 3 “The bells upon his cap jingles as he strode” is one
sentence in which Montresor takes specific notice of the sound of these bells.
The audience is made extremely aware of the specific notice of the sound of
these bells. After Montresor finishes building the wall “there came forth in
return only a jingling of the bells.” “The ironic jingling of the bells
which marks the end of ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ is as perfect a curtain as
could be devised” (Fagin 204). The reader is left with only the sound of the
bells, a sound that even they cannot help but recall after reading the story.
One can imagine the effect the sound of these bells would have when the story is
performed. The final and most memorable sound would be the jingling of the
bells. II. Humor Appeal Through the ironic naming of the characters Poe gives
visual images to the readers. The naming of Fortunato, which is ironic since he
is anything but fortunate, suggests a lucky or fortunate person (Womack 5). He
is given the name “Fortunato” though to make him appear as a “fool” (4).
Montresor says that “Fortunato, like his country men, was a quack” (Lowell
214). Montresor’s name being associated with “treasure” gives the reader
an image of a rich and powerful man (Gruesser 1). Throughout the story Montresor
uses verbal irony numerous times to foreshadow his intentions to the audience.
One use of this verbal irony is in Montresor’s concern for Fortunato’s
health. Montresor tells Fortunato that his health is precious and they should
Grimes 4 turn back so Fortunato does not become ill. Fortunato responds saying,
“The cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me.” Montresor knowing how
Fortunato will die responds “True-true.” Another example of verbal irony is
occurs when Montresor toasts to Fortunatos long life. Verbal irony is also
apparent when Montresor calls Fortunato “friend.” When he makes it clear to
the reader that he is seeking revenge on an enemy. Montresor also referred to
him as “the noble Fortunato.” He heard “a sad voice, which I had
difficulty in recognizing as that of the noble Fortunato”(Lowell 221). In the
fact that he is retelling this story after fifty years, one is led to believe
that Montresor must feel guilt for the murder that was committed. III. Visual
Appeal Fortunato enters the scene wearing a jesters cosume. This jesters costume
coincides with the setting of the carnival. The costume is also appropriate for
the story because Montresor wants to make a “fool” out of him (Womack 4).
The audience can picture Fortunato in this foolish costume. Montresor wears a
“roquelaure” which is a cape making him appear evil and mysterious.
Montresor also puts on a “mask of black silk” which adds to his horrifying
and evil appearance (Lowell 216). While Fortunato is dressed as a “fool”
Montresor dresses as an “executioner” (Platizky 1). Montresor must dress as
this executioner to let the audience know that he is planning on murdering
Fortunato. Grimes 5 Another instance where the narrator is remarkably
descriptive occurs in the depiction of the nitre filled catacombs. The picture
the narrator paints a picture in the audience’s mind that captivates the
imagination. The picture appeals to the reader’s visual sense in such a way
that we enjoy reading the story even more. V. Conclusion “The Cask of
Amontillado,” by Edgar Allan Poe, is an extremely enjoyable story to read and
study. Poe captures the audience’s attention by using descriptive details in
that appeal to the senses of the audience. The descriptive details in this story
not only appeal to the audience’s auditory and visual senses, but also to
their sense of humor. Through the extraordinarily memory of the narrator as he
recounts these details, the audience is able to see that he is haunted with
details that he can recall fifty years later.
Benton, Roger P. “Poe’s ‘The Cask’ and the ‘White Webwork Which
Gleams’.” Studies in Short Fiction (1991): 183-195. Fagin, N. Bryllion. The
Historic Mr. Poe. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1949. Gruesser, John.
“Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado; Criticism & Interpretation.” The
Explicator (1998): 129-130. Lowell, James R. Tales of Mystery and Imagination.
New York: The Book league of America, 1940. Moss, Sidney P. Poe’s Literary
Battles. North Carolina: Kingsport, 1963. Platizky, Roger. “Poe’s The Cask
of Amontillado; Criticism & Interpretation.” The Explicator (1999):
206-210. Thompson, G.R. “Cask of Amontillado”: A Case for Defense Van Dulmen,
Richard. “Rituals of Execution in Early Modern German.” The Social Dimension
of Western Civilization. 4th Ed. Ed. Richard M. Golden. Boston: Bedford/St.
Martins, 1999. Womack, Martha “The Cask of Amontillado.”
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