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The Cask of Amontillado1

Mystery, Irony, and Imagery “The Cask of Amontillado” is one of Edgar Allan Poe’s greatest stories. In this story Poe introduces two central characters and unfolds a tale of horror and perversion. Montresor, the narrator, and Fortunato, one of Montresor’s friends, are doomed to the fate of their actions and will pay the price for their pride and jealousy. One pays the price with his life and the other pays the price with living with regret for the rest of his life. Poe uses mystery, irony, and imagery to create a horrifying, deceptive, and perverse story. Hoping to obtain revenge, Montresor, the narrator, lures Fortunato, one of his friends, into the depths of his catacombs to be murdered. Montresor says, “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge”(149). This is the first line in the story, and this is why Montresor seeks revenge. There is no explanation of the insults that Montresor received, so the reader may infer that Montresor is just lying. The insults that were received could possibly be just outdoing in the business arena. Montresor might be using that excuse for his desire to kill Fortunato, because he may be killing Fortunato out of jealousy. Montresor is likely telling this story to a family member, friend, or his doctor while lying on his deathbed. Montresor says, “…your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter.”(150). Montresor just admitted that he knows Fortunato is better than he. Montresor may have been under the influence of jealousy. Redd 4 There are different theories to why Fortunato is lured down into the catacombs. Bonaparte states, “Fortunato, his curiosity and thirst both aroused, presses to be allowed to taste the wine, despite Montresor’s feigned opposition, intended to whet his desire” (507). William Doxey believes, “we are told from the beginning that Fortunato’s weakness is his pride in his connoisseurship in wine. It is his pride that hooks him”(266). Both Marie Bonaparte and William Doxey believe that it is Fortunato’s weakness for wine that gets him in trouble. Montresor also mentions his rival at wines, “As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If anyone has a critical turn it is he”(150). When asked about his cough, “Fortunato replies, not with courtesy, but with prideful determination: ‘Let us go never the less’”(Doxey 266). Very often a man’s prideful remarks or decisions can get the best of him. It seems that Fortunato could not let himself be outdone. There is the theory of perversity that Montresor tried to use to get Fortunato down into the vaults. J. Rea explains, “A part of Poe’s theory of perversity is that we want to hurt or kill or to bury alive someone because he has been good to us. It is an unbelievable desire”(59). She also believes, “Montresor inaccurately measures Fortunato’s intellect and succeeds in his plan only through the accident of the similarity of perversity and courtesy”(62). She believes that the courtesy of Fortunato, insisting that his cough is nothing to worry about, is what lets them continue their trip to his death. Rea states, “Perversity always makes one do what he should not; courtesy often makes one do what he should not”(62). Montresor believes that he has achieved his goal by using the theory of perversity even though he has Redd 5 mistaken Fortunato’s courtesy for what it is. William strongly disagrees with J. Rea’s belief in the theory of perversity, because he believes it is Fortunato’s pride that entraps him. J. Rea states with enthusiasm, “Fortunato’s courtesy has given him the reputation of a drunkard” (268). The reader must also realize that it was the carnival season and that Fortunato had been drinking. Fortunato was already drunk before they left to find the amontillado, and Montresor gets him to drink more on the way. Everyone knows that wine and alcohol inhibits a person’s thinking abilities, and Fortunato may have been too drunk to realize that Montresor would keep the amontillado near the front of the vaults. “The Cask of Amontillado” has a role reversal between the main characters. Montresor, the murderer and the man in power, “considers himself a persecuted, social nonentity”(Gargano 121). Fortunato is at the mercy of Montresor. “Fortunato, normally an affluent and commanding man, dwindles into pitiful dupe,” says Gargano (121). This role reversal could symbolize what will happen after Fortunato’s death. Montresor will move back into a position of power. The reader knows that he was once a powerful man because Montresor states, “You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy as once I was”(150). There is a “theory of perversity.” J. Rea explains, “A part of Poe’s theory of perversity is that we want to hurt or kill or to bury alive someone because he has been good to us. It is an unbelievable desire”(59). Since this is such an unbelievable theory any normal man would not agree with this, which is what Montresor does. He does not realize that he is being affected by this theory, therefore he does not admit to it and says he is killing for revenge. On the other hand, if Montresor does realize he is being affected by Redd 6 perversity, all Montresor needs to do is looks inside Fortunato to lure him down into the vaults. J. Rea also states, “Montresor looks inside himself and sees perversity and then plays, or tries to play, on the perversity that he suspects is in the other person because it is in him”(62). Since he believes there is perversity in Fortunato he tells Fortunato to turn back knowing all the time that he will not. Part of the way into the trip Montresor tells Fortunato, “No one attacks me without paying dearly”(151). Poe is using foreshadowing to tell the reader that something bad is to happen to Fortunato. This is just after Fortunato drank another bottle of wine, so he does not even realize what this statement means. “The Cask of Amontillado” is ironic in subtle ways that may be hard to pick up. When Montresor offers Fortunato something to drink Fortunato, “the victim drinks to the buried, and the murderer drinks to Fortunato’s long life”(Mabbott item 30). This is very ironic because Montresor is about to kill Fortunato even though he just toasted to his long life. Fortunato is about to join all of the dead that he just toasted to. The name Fortunato is unmistakably ironic because it is so closely related to the word fortunate and the name Fortuna. Fortunate means having good luck and Fortuna is the Roman god of fortune. Another use of irony is that this murder happened during the carnival season when everyone is having fun and not worrying about anything. Fortunato is even wearing “motley” (149) which is a clown costume to convey the fun of the time. During this grim time, “Fortunato, although immobilized, races to meet Death with only a jingling of the bells on his clown’s hat”(Cervo 156). It is very ironic that Fortunato dies while wearing one of the funniest costumes that is at the carnival. Redd 7 Imagery plays an important role in the story. Montresor says, “The vaults are insufferably damp”(150). This lets the reader know what the vaults feel like. This could also refer to the damp feeling that the reader and Fortunato will later have in the story. Poe explains the scene of the crime, “Its walls had been lined with human remains”(152), and “the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size”(152). This conveys to the reader that the vaults are not a pleasant place to be, and that many others have died there as well. The climax of the story is when Montresor chains Fortunato to the wall and begins bricking him into the niche. This is the point in the story that Montresor gets revenge on Fortunato. The reader may ask himself if Montresor really succeeded in getting revenge. Montresor never told Fortunato why he was killing him. All Montresor needed to do was simply state his reason for the murder after he had Fortunato chained. “Montresor, of course, would have enjoyed hearing his successful friend reduced to the beggary” (Kishel 30) which would have made his revenge much better. The only thing that Fortunato knows is that Montresor has gotten the best of him and that his fortune has run out. Montresor states, “For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat! (Let him rest in peace)”(153). Montresor could be wishing his guilt and regret away with this statement. If this is the case, Montresor really has not gotten revenge, because he has had to live for half of a century with the guilt and regret that this murder has caused him. Regret is the price that Montresor has paid for killing his friend. This is a horrifying story, not because of what the reader sees with the outward eye but what the reader sees with the inward eye of imagination. The story never exactly tells Redd 8 what Montresor was thinking which leaves the reader to wonder. The story never tells how Fortunato copes with the fact that he is being murdered, or how he deals with being chained up waiting on death to come and take him. A person’s imagination is a wild thing. Poe is trying to “make us see the abyss, the infinity, the chaos inside ourselves into which we both dread and desire to fall. He who looks into the abyss will become afraid of himself”(Rea 69). This is one of Poe’s great short stories because it involves the reader in real life issues: jealousy, revenge, and regret. Edgar Allan Poe allows the reader to interpret the end of the story by himself, which brings imagination into the picture. Why does Montresor hesitate in putting up the last stone? This makes the reader wonder if Montresor was beginning to feel guilty. At the end of the story Montresor and Fortunato talk a little. Montresor called aloud, “Fortunato!” No answer came so Montresor states, “I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so”(153). This statement leads the reader to believe that Montresor may have had a moment when his conscience begins to creep up on him. He quickly states that it is the dampness of the catacombs that makes his heart sick.

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