Essay, Research Paper: Cask Of Amontillado By Poe

Literature: Edgar Allan Poe

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In “The Cask of Amontillado” Edgar Allan Poe takes us on a trip into the
mind of a mad man. The story relates a horrible revenge made even more horrible
by the fact that the vengeance is being taken when no real offense had been
given. This concept sets the mood for true evil. The plot of the story is
simple. Montresor takes revenge on his friend Fortunato by luring him into the
wine cellar under the family estate. There he leads Fortunato into the depths of
the catacombs where he buries him alive by walling him into a recess in the
wall. This story is told in first person, from the point of view of Montresor.
The exposition of the story occurs when Montresor tells us that he wants to take
revenge on Fortunato because “he ventured upon insult.” What this insult was
we do not know. We do know that he intends to go unpunished for this act of
reprisal. Montresor then informs us that he is going to continue to smile in
Fortunato’s face, while using Fortunato’s pride in his knowledge wine to
lure him into the catacombs to taste some of his imaginary amontillado. At this
point, the reader knows the conflict will be one of man versus man. It is an
external struggle because Fortunato and Montresor are in a life and death fight.
However, the conflict is largely internal, because Montresor has a fierce hatred
that Fortunato is unaware of. The climax of the story is when Montresor chains
Fortunato to the wall and begins to layer the bricks. It is the high point of
emotional involvement. It is at this point that the reader may ask themselves if
this is really about to happen. The conclusion lets us know that Montresor was
never punished for this crime. Fifty years has passed and he is an old man
telling the story on his deathbed. The true horror is that Fortunato died a
terrible death, utterly alone, and his killer was never brought to justice. The
theme in the story is perhaps the least important feature. After all, it is
about a senseless crime. Maybe the idea behind the story is that no one can find
refuge from a deranged mind, or that terrible crimes can be committed when an
imaginary offense can fester into reality. In this story the character of
Montresor is revealed through his own words. When he reveals he is going to
punish Fortunato for merely insulting him, that he has planned the whole act of
vengeance, and that he has been playing as being Fortunato’s friend, we know
we are dealing with a demented personality. His character is also revealed with
references to his family. It is almost as if Poe has Montresor’s ancestors
tell the reader how nicely he fits into the family tree. His family motto is
“No one attacks me with impunity” and a coat of arms that depicts a snake
whose last instinct before death is to poison the foot that crushed it.
Montresor is as evil as his forebears were. He shows no remorse about what he
has done, even in old age. Montresor’s malice toward Fortunato is highlighted
when he says, “In pace requiescat!”* This sarcastic comment at the end of
the story truly shows Montresor’s hatred and total disregard for Fortuato’s
life. The setting Poe chose for the story adds to the horror. He sets most of
the story in a dark, damp series of winding tunnels piled with the bones of dead
family members. By taking Fortunato into the vaults, he cuts him off from help.
The two characters are underground and isolated. Using the carnival as a
backdrop is also skillful because it is a time when everything is in chaos and
people have lost their self-control. There is noise in the street, the servants
are gone, and Fortunato might have sensed something evil about Montresor’s
intentions and left the vaults before it was too late. Poe uses irony throughout
the story. There is situational irony in the fact that the crime takes place
during a celebration, that Fortunato’s name means good luck, and that
Fortunato is dressed like a jester. What is about to happen is just the opposite
of what you would expect. Just about everything Montresor says is ironic. He
says just the opposite of what he means. He keeps inquiring about Fortunato’s
health and says he will not die of a cold. The greatest use of irony is when
Montresor says he is a member of the masons. Fortunato thinks he means he is of
a fellow member of a society when what he really means is that he is a
bricklayer about to brick him in for all eternity. This conversation also
provides foreshadowing in the story. This is the first clue the reader gets
about how Montresor will kill Fortunato. The overall mood of the story is one of
impending evil. The ending of the story is filled with suspense. You see
Montresor carefully construct each row of stone. At this point Montresor is
fully committed to finishing his horrific deed even at the desperate pleas from
Fortunato. When the last brick is set in place, we know Fortunato’s fate has
been sealed.
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