The Cask of Amontillado Critical Essay
Edgar Allan Poe is perceived as one of the greatest authors and poets of all time. His works have elicited the need for analysis by various scholars and parties from the field of literature. His short story, “The Cask of Amontillado”, portrays various stylistic approaches, thus necessitating an analysis to evaluate the writing style.
“The Cask of Amontillado” is a story involving horror due to Montresor’s vengeful motive upon Fortunato. Poe’s work on this piece of literature has been considered as one of the world’s perfect short stories. The narrative meets the qualities of a classic short story as theorized by Poe since it can be read in a single sitting. This paper will analyze the stylistic devices that Poe applies in the short story, “The Cask of Amontillado”.
The story’s narrator, Montresor, opens up his revengeful motive towards Fortunato, his acquaintance, by claiming that he insulted him irreparably (Poe 1200). Montresor seeks to use Fortunato’s liking for wine in a bid to carry out his revenge in a way that curtails the risks of being identified. Montresor brings the idea of using Luchesi to taste Amontillado, but Fortunato suggests that he is not good enough for the task and regards him as a competitor as well.
The two proceed towards Montresor’s burial vaults, which are exposed and filled with nitre. The nitre causes Fortunato to cough, and thus takes the wine to counter the effects even after being told by Montresor to go home. The two continue exploring the vaults that contain body remains of Montresor’s family members.
Fortunato tries to see if Montresor is a true mason by making a hand movement, but the latter does not recognize and he justifies himself by showing him a trowel implying a stonemason (Poe 1202). Montresor tells an intoxicated Fortunato to access a small recess through a wall made of bones to get the Amontillado before trapping him. Fortunato starts squalling as the walls go up.
The alcohol levels in his system drop as he starts moaning helplessly and later laughs at Montresor, who is not in the mood for jokes, as he continues piling the layers of the wall. Fortunato stops conversing with Montresor after making the final plea, “For the love of God, Montresor” (Poe 1204), but the latter continues to call his name twice.
Montresor positions the final brick and plasters the walls before reassembling the bones on the fourth wall. Montresor says that the bones have not been disturbed for fifty years, and he makes a conclusion in Latin that translates to “May he rest in peace” (Poe 1205).
Poe’s short story depicts a simple plot that portrays various aspects of his style in a compact way. Therefore, the analysis will explore the title, the use of irony, and other aspects writing and stylistic devices that Poe applies.
The title, “The Cask of Amontillado”, sounds mysterious and it tends to elicit fright. “Amontillado” simply refers to an alcoholic beverage that is linked to sherry. The title seems to conceal the story’s subject since moat people are not familiar with the various types of liquor unless one is a wine connoisseur.
On the other hand, “Casks” are used for the storage of alcoholic beverages. Montresor communicates that Fortunato possesses a “pipe of what passes for Amontillado” (Poe 1201). In this light, the “pipe” implies the “cask”, which could mean a “casket”. Poe uses the title to conceal and reveal the horrific nature of the story artistically as depicted by Fortunato’s ambitions of finding the Cask of Amontillado only to discover his death casket.
Additionally, Amontillado has different meanings to Montresor and Fortunato. To Fortunato, Amontillado represents pleasance and delectation, while Montresor uses it for the pursuit of his vengeful mission.
The use of irony
Poe uses three types of irony in the story as a literary tool that facilitates the readers’ understanding of the friendship that exists between Montresor and Fortunato. He uses situational, dramatic, and verbal irony throughout the story to make it intriguing to the audience.
In verbal irony, the speaker uses parables to imply the opposite meaning of what is being said. For instance, the name “Fortunato” implies good fortune, but it seems to be the contrary in this story. Fortunato turns out to be unfortunate as he is eventually trapped and killed by the revengeful Montresor.
Verbal irony is also depicted as Montresor leads Fortunato to the vaults. Montresor pretends to be caring about Fortunato’s health by noting, “We will go back; your health is precious…You are a man to be missed. For me, it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible” (Poe 1203).
Montresor’s intentions are the opposite since he intends to destroy Fortunato’s health by killing him. Fortunato proceeds deeper towards the vault as his coughs persist, but Montresor tells him that they will go back before it gets late and that his cough is nothing to worry about at the time. Going deep into the vaults means that Fortunato would meet his dark fate, which is signified by Amontillado.
Fortunato’s source of pleasure turns out to be his painful ending as Montresor revenges on him. Poe also uses dramatic irony in the story whereby he reveals some things to the audience, which are unknown to the characters. Fortunato’s dress code appears ironical as it depicts his eagerness to taste the rare alcoholic beverage. He posits, “The man wore motley.
He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells” (Poe 1202). In this regard, Fortunato’s dressing mode symbolizes a fool that can be easily tricked into his death. Fortunato also says, “I will not die of a cough” (Poe 1202). Montresor affirming, “The cold is merely nothing” (Poe 1202). The readers know what is looming for Fortunato, but he is not aware of what may happen to him according to his enemy’s plans.
Fortunato toasts bodies that had been buried in the catacombs without realizing his impending death (Poe 1203). In situational irony, the opposite of the anticipated outcomes occurs. Poe utilizes this type of irony during the night of the carnival. He posits, “I had told them that I should not return until the morning and had given them explicit orders not to stir from the house.
These orders were sufficient, I well knew, to insure their immediate disappearance, one, and all, as soon as my back was turned” (Poe 1203). This assertion implies that the Montresor wants his servants not to leave without him, which ensures that they would do the contrary. Another instance of situational irony is whereby the non-existent cask containing the Amontillado turns out to be the connoisseur’s casket.
Fortunato ultimately discovers his coffin instead of the rare wine that he anticipates. Montresor commits a premeditated murder of Fortunato, which is not punished legally after fifty years (Poe 1205). Therefore, it is ironical that Fortunato has been resting in peace as Montresor lives freely with impunity.
A good story should entail aspects of an initial condition, the conflict, complication, climax, suspense, and the conclusion. Poe initiates the story by depicting the painful history between Montresor and Fortunato. Montresor claims, “Fortunato had hurt me in other ways a thousand times, and I had suffered in quiet” (Poe 1200) implying that there were personal differences that existed between them.
Fortunato also insults Montresor, thus causing him to vow for revenge. This section provides a good basis for the story’s initial situation. The conflict aspect of the story is comes out when Montresor posits, “I must punish him with impunity” (Poe 1201). This statement translates into his vengeful strategies that depict the conflict in the story.
The story is not complicated and it might only confuse the reader on the aspects of Amontillado and Luchesi. The climax of the story stands out when Fortunato is chained in the catacomb as Montresor starts erecting the walls that would act as Fortunato’s casket.
The suspense is created where Montresor positions and plasters the bricks for the tomb. The denouement of the story happens when Montresor places the final brick thereby ending the suspense that calls for the conclusion by writing, “In pace requiescat!” (Poe 1205).
Montresor describes various events elegantly, which intrigues the reader. For instance, Montresor describes the bones and human remains in a tone that does not evoke fear. He says, “We passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt, in which the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux [torches – pronounced “flam-bow”] rather glow than flame” (Poe 1204).
The story adopts a horrific and gothic setting. The setting of the story proceeds from freedom to confinement as Montresor kills Fortunato by confining him in a casket. The carnival aims at creating happiness and celebrating freedom, but it turns out to be the opposite for Fortunato.
The dusk hours imply that something horrific is imminent as manifested by Montresor’s trap. The season is considered as a period of “supreme madness” (Poe 1203), and thus it evokes a feeling of uncertainty. However, the actual setting of the story is not specified, but events are perceived to take place in the European setting since the names of the characters like Fortunato and Luchesi have a European origin. Amontillado is a wine of Spanish origin whereas Montresor’s coat of arms originates from Scotland.
“The Cask of Amontillado” is a perfect short story that depicts Poe’s stylistic features of his works. The title creates a concealed horrific topic that requires the readers’ interpretation of the “Cask” and “Amontillado”. Poe uses symbolism, irony, suspense, and horror to give the story a creative element as the setting flows from freedom to confinement.
The plot used is simple as it initiates the issue between Montresor and Fortunato before proceeding to build up the conflict that climaxes at Montresor’s catacombs. Therefore, Poe depicts his exceptional writing skills in authoring the short story, thus making him one of the greatest writers and poets of all the time.
Poe, Edgar. “The Cask of Amontillado.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Eds. Nina Baym et al. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 1200-1205. Print.
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