Edgar Allan Poe’ Use Of Irony In The Cask Of Amontillado
Edgar Allan Poe was an American short-story writer and critic who is best known for his fantastical horror stories and genre-founding detective stories. Poe considered himself primarily a poet.
Although in most of his works his narrators are unreliable and sound insane, it is not necessarily because Poe was exorcising his own demons. It is more likely that he was writing the kinds of stories that he knew would attract and hold readers. In the “Cask of Amontillado” we have a classic example of such story. As in several of Poe’s works, and in accordance with the 19th century’s fascination with the subject, the narrative revolves around a buried person, in this case, by building.
In this macabre and horrifying tale that describes a carefully crafted cold-blooded murder, we can also find several situations in which irony is interwoven in a subtle or obvious manner.
Irony is a subtle humorous perception of inconsistency, in which an apparently straightforward statement is undermined by its context so as to give it very different significance. In various forms, irony appears in many kinds of literature, from the tragedy of Sophocles to the novels of Jane Austen and Henry James, but is especially important in satire, as in Voltaire and Swift. At its simplest, in verbal irony it involves a discrepancy between what is said and what is really meant, as in its crude form, sarcasm. The more sustained structural irony in literature involves the use of a naïve or deluded hero or unreliable narrator whose view of the world differs widely from the true circumstances recognized by the author and readers; literary irony thus flatters its readers’ intelligence at the expense of a character (or a fictional narrator).
Already from the setting we can learn that the author intent is to slide elements of irony among the elements that tell of a horror story. The action happens during the carnival, a time for dancing and drinking. In contrast to the setting, the plot of the crime becomes ridiculous.
The second element of irony in the writing is the name of Montresor’s friend- Fortunato; it is obviously derived from ‘’fortunate”. Not only that he is unlucky and he is going to be buried alive, but there is one more layer of irony: the name Fortunato usually belongs to some saints and martyrs in the Catholic world, while Fortunato engages in drinking and debauchery, thus being far from sanctity.
Montresor meets his friend “about dusk” and he greets him in a very friendly manner by saying “My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking today.” Montresor’s attitude towards is a duplicitous and ironical one: he says he met him by change and gladly, while actually planning carefully every step to Fortunato’s death. Also, Fortunato wears a jester costume – “He had on a tight-fitting party dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and the bells” and yet Montresor pays him compliments on how well he looked.
Next, Montresor lures his friend to his cellar by saying he has received a cask of Amontillado and wants Fortunato’s advice on whether the wine is genuine or not. It is well known that a true wine connoisseur should perform his tastings only when sober, while Fortunato, although enthusiastic, already “had been drinking much”.
They descend together into the “vaults” and the air becomes toxic, the walls of the cellar being “encrusted with nitre”. The salt and the dampness of make Fortunato have a cough seizure. Ironically/mockingly, Montresor shows signs of worry at his friend’s sickness and urges him to go back to the “palazzo” saying that his health is precious, but Fortunato is sure he will not “die of a cough” and vows to see the Amontillado.
Another sign of irony is derived from the scene when Montresor picks a bottle of Medoc from his cellar’s shelf and drinks to Fortunato’s “long life”, while actually seeing him to his death.
While walking further into the catacombs, Montresor picks another bottle of wine, this time called DeGrave, and offers it to his friend in an attempt to cure his cough. Here again we have a double layer of irony introduced by the author. First, the name of this particular wine contains the word “grave”. Second, DeGrave it is said to have been a more expensive and more fine wine than the Amontillado, revealing the fact Fortunato was an amateur when it came to recognizing wine.
Finally, Montresor chains Fortunato in the farthest room of his cellar. The way in which Montresor performs this action could be interpreted as a parodic inversion of crucifying, a detail which might lead us to draw the conclusion that this was a revenge in the name of Christ, by the ironic substitution of the referent with the opponent (i.e. a francmason, the buffoon Fortunato) – Cutitaru.
One of the last ironic inferences is when Montresor utters the words “For the love of God” while finishing the work of building a tomb around Fortunato, which is against the foundation of Christian religion – “God is love” – and also against one of the commandments “Thou shalt not kill”.
At the end of the story, after burying his friend alive, comes the most disturbing pieces of ironic details of the whole text. Montresor’s heart “grew sick” but not because what he did – he shows no signs of remorse after committing the murder – but invoking “the dampness of the catacombs” as the main reason.
Finally, after 50 years, Montresor confesses his crime. While doing that, he adds the words “In pace requiescat”, a phrase which means “Rest in peace” and is usually used by priests. But spoken by Montresor, these words can be considered ironic; after burying his friend alive in a tomb, he wishes him sarcastically to rest in peace.
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