A Look at Vengeance as Illustrated in Edgar Allan Poe’s Story, The Cask of Amontillado
“The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe is the twisted story of Montresor’s revenge against Fortunato, a “friend” who insulted his family name. After luring Fortunato into his family’s catacombs with the promise of enjoying a drink of Amontillado, Montresor chains him to wall and leaves him there to die. Different aspects of Poe’s life, including his psychological tendencies and Freemasonry, influenced him to incorporate social status into “The Cask of Amontillado”.
It is evident that both characteristics of Poe’s personality and values are reflected in this short story. Poe resented his social status, was full of pride, and took criticism harshly. Like Poe, Montresor also did not take jokes and criticism lightly. Fortunato’s continuous remarks about the Montresors is what ultimately lead Montresor to kill him. Fortunato made remarks about the Montresors because of their recent fall in wealth.
Poe resented his more successful coworkers who had more money than him, and he made this known; he “quickly became upset by jokes made at his expense” (Giammarco). Montresor resents Fortunato’s wealth and happiness because he has fallen in social status. Montresor wants what he used to have and what Fortunato recently gained. Montresor and Fortunato both have a high sense of pride and reputation. Thus, Montresor’s fall in social status severely affects him and makes him envious of Fortunato. This envy and jealousy, caused by the differing social positions of Montresor and Fortunato, is what ultimately drives Montresor to kill Fortunato (Poe). Poe’s own personality characteristic of resenting his social status can be seen here in Montresor’s character.
As the story unfolds, the audience learns that Montresor has fallen in social class, and that Fortunato is now wealthier and therefore more powerful than he. After Fortunato has a coughing fit, Montresor says “You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as I once was. You are a man to be missed” (Poe 327). This shows that Montresor was once wealthy and happy, like Fortunato currently is, but his fall in social status has caused him unhappiness.
One of the influences on Poe plays a role Montresor still has his pride despite the fact that he has fallen in social status. He is still confident that he can trick Fortunato with the promise of Amontillado and play upon his weaknesses. This weakness, stemming from his high social status, leads to his ultimate demise. Fortunato is left to die in the catacombs, and Montresor has to live with the guilt of killing him for his reputation (Poe). Poe’s strong sense of pride is seen here in Montresor’s character.
Three aspects of Poe’s character, including resenting his social status, taking criticism harshly, and having a strong sense of pride, all made their way into Montresor’s character in this short story. These characteristics of Montresor demonstrate the social status element that Poe incorporated in “The Cask of Amontillado”.
Not only was Poe’s influenced by his own personal experience, he was also influenced by the heavy Freemason presence of his time period. The audience sees another aspect of social status embedded in Poe’s short story, and this is the reference to the Freemasons. In Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” a conversation between Montresor and Fortunato occurs over the Freemasons. ‘“You do not comprehend?” he said. “Not I,” I replied. “Then you are not of the brotherhood.” “How?” “You are not of the masons.” “Yes, yes,” I said; “yes, yes.” “You? Impossible! A mason?” (Poe 328). Fortunato, once again, insults Montresor by telling him that it is impossible that he is a Freemason. The issue of social status is evident again here, as the audience sees how Fortunato regards himself as a higher social status. This dialogue between Montresor and Fortunato held cultural significance for Poe because of the large presence of Freemasons during this time period.
The dialogue that contains the reference to the Freemasons is a “contemporary Masonic political conflict” (Davis-Undiano). According to Davis-Undiano, contemporary analysis of the Freemasons in this short story is often incorrect; their cultural impact and significance vastly varied at the time the short story was written compared to present day. At the time this short story was written, there were two different kinds of Freemasons, and an ongoing conflict was occurring between them (Davis-Undiano).
Since the Freemasons were an exclusive club, the idea of social status is seen further here. Fortunato considers himself of higher social status than Montresor, so when he references the Freemasons, he is insulting Montresor yet again, accusing him of being a “lesser” Freemason. The time period in which Poe wrote this story was the period in which the rift was deepening between the “elite” and “working class” Freemasons. Poe could have been demonstrating this rift in “The Cask of Amontillado” with the reference to the Freemasons between Montresor and Fortunato.
The reader can see the similarities between Poe’s personality characteristics and morals in the characters in the story. These characteristics Montresor, including resenting his social status, taking criticism harshly, and having a strong sense of pride, all demonstrate Poe’s psychological tendencies in relation to social class. The Freemasons are also an integral part of the story, as they also influenced Poe and further show social status. Fortunato’s incredulous remarks about Montresor being a Freemason demonstrate their differing social statuses and the importance of the Freemasons to the story. Social status is a significant theme in Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” and many of his other great works.
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