Montresor in “The Cask of Amontillado” Literary Analysis
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The paper is a literary analysis of a short story “The Cask of Amontillado”, written by Edgar Allan Poe. The following methods of literary studies are adopted in the paper: biographical, formal, structural, and comparative. The use of such stylistic devices as irony and foreshadowing as well as the “unreliable narrator” technique are discussed in the paper. The analysis explains why “The Cask of Amontillado” is a great example of a gothic tale and a horror story. Although the volume of the story is very short, it is very peculiar to its language choice and form of narration.
Edgar Allan Poe was an American short-story writer, essayist, and poet. Many of his works include themes of death, burials, and mourning; therefore, the writer is considered to be a representative of dark romanticism genre. The text under analysis is his last short story “The Casque of Amontillado.” Edgar Allan Poe creates a gothic tale of revenge and horror. The strong impact that the story makes on the reader is created with the help of irony.
The short story is a narration of revenge, murder, abuse, and madness. The events take place in the unknown Italian city during the carnival. The first-person narrator, whose name is Montresor, tells that he can forgive anything but an insult. He points out that his friend, whose name is Fortunato, has insulted him and he must take revenge. The narrator tries to justify his actions (Hayes, 2002). Montresor never lets Fortunato know that he hates him; the main hero does not drop even a subtle hint of coldness. It is ironical how the victim does not have any suspicions and is sure of his safety. In the meanwhile, the murderer is waiting for the appropriate moment to apply his horrible idea. During the carnival, Montresor tells Fortunato that he has a cask of rare brandy called Amontillado. Fortunato, who considers himself a great wine connoisseur, is eager to immediately go and examine wine, which is kept in Montresor’s cellar. The two friends leave the carnival unnoticed and go to the wine cellar, which is also a catacomb, an underground cemetery. It is ironical how Montresor asks Fortunato to go out because the cellar is bad for Fortunato’s health. As Fortunato refuses, Montresor offers his already drunk friend another bottle of alcohol and tracks him into a trap where he chains and immures him alive. In the end of the story, Montresor says that he has not been down in the cellar for over fifty years since that day.
The story is told in the form of a subjective first-person narration. This makes the text sound more personal and shortens the distance between the author and the reader. The text becomes more vivid and the reader turns into the participant of the events. Still, the reliability of the narrator is doubtful because it is quite possible that Fortunato never hurt Montresor and that Montresor is a madman. Poe uses the unreliable narrator technique in the short story.
The forms of presentation of the story include direct speech, dialogue, narration, and inner monologue. The combination of different forms of narration creates the vividness of the story. The narration can be viewed as the confession of the killer. The slant of the story is not only ironical and tragic but also unemotional at the same time. Fortunato’s name suggests that he is fortunate, but he dies imprisoned alive in the catacomb by his good old friend. It is also ironic how Montresor suggests many times that they should leave the catacomb, but Fortunato only goes in the direction of his death: “‘Come,’ I said, with decision, ‘we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed’” (Poe, 1984).
The atmosphere of the story is mystic, dark, and gothic as many other stories written by Poe because of which he is often referred to as the master of horror (National Park Service, 1999, p. 34). The story is set in a deserted house’s cellar at night. No one can see Montresor, suspect, or stop him: “There were no attendants at home; they had absconded to make merry in honor of the time. I had told them that I should not return until the morning” (Poe, 1984).
The plot structure of the text is rather complicated. In the very end of the story, the reader discovers that it is a flashback to the past: “Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!” (Poe, 1984).
The text may be subdivided into the five logically completed fragments. In exposition, the narrator tells the story of his insult and reveals his revenge plans. The complications of the plot include Montresor faking his positive attitude towards Fortunato while planning his death, meeting at the carnival, and going to the wine cellar. The climax of the story is the moment when Montresor chains Fortunato. The denouement of the story goes along with Montresor’s building up the walls of the prison and the grave. The closing part of the story is represented by the last two sentences of the story. The methods of conveying character as indirect are developed with the help of the character’s speech and actions. The author does not impose on the reader any point of view. It is the reader who decides whether the revenge was a proper one and whether the insult ever took place.
A bright and rich network of images is present in the text. The title of the story itself is mysterious and does not reveal anything to the reader. It is something unknown and yet the reader does not know that the story is a horror. The author uses contrast in the story: the brightness and vividness of the carnival changes into the dreading underground cemetery with stiff air and hips of bones. This change of location foreshadows Fortunado’s fate.
Symbolism is also present in the story; Montresor’s coat of arms is “A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel” (Poe, 1984). His family motto conveys the idea that no one will harm him without punishment. Here is another foreshadowing of Fortunato’s horrible fate. Judging from the coat of arms and the motto, the reader can make some presumptions regarding what kind of Person Montresor is. The author does not explain the motif of the murder in details, thus leaving to the reader justification or judgment of his horrible act of revenge and homicide. The most powerful irony is in the fact that the real crime remains neither punished nor discovered, while the insult that caused it is nor revealed and nor proven. Perhaps Fortunato never understood why his friend decided to kill him.
“The Cask of Amontillado” is a great example of a gothic horror short story by Edgar Allan Poe. Irony and symbolism create the grotesque story told from the first-person evil narrator. The motif of murder remains undiscovered, adding to the mystery of the story and making it even more memorable.