The Cask of Amontillado is a gripping story by Edgar Allan Poe which explores the realm of human emotions. The author pens the literary work and aptly exudes his expertise though the various devices which are used to enhance the tumultuous influence of the story on the minds of the readers. A close analysis of the characters and the theme along with the other literary devices will make one comprehend the excellence and the paramount influence of the story on the human minds. The author personifies his “hostile feelings and thoughts, symbolizing the repressed instincts of the personality” in the story (Bily).
Montresor is a brutal assassin who enjoys killing and also nurtures the belief that it is necessary to kill. He is an unreliable narrator and comes across as less human and more of a literary mechanism which is aimed to evoke the responses among the avid readers to delve deep into their own selves and decipher what it actually means to be of flesh and blood. A terribly unsympathetic character, the narrator also remains alien to the gazillion readers of the story. Montresor embodies the dark, vengeful side of human nature and is actually an expedition to the id of the human psyche. The character shows the path for self-reflection to the readers through its journey to the eschewed dark alleys of the mind.
On the other hand, Fortunato, the victim seems to be easier to be identified with, although the narrator denies the readers much information about him. In the course of the story, however, his weaknesses are exposed and can only aid the reader in the introspection about life. It is his addiction for drinking which leaves him as extremely vulnerable to the narrator’s vicious attack. Another aspect of his character is his insensitivity which makes him turn a blind eye to the fact that Montresor is literally mad at him. Apart from being a poor judge of character, he is also under the influence of greed or pride which makes him wish to prove that he is actually a better wine tester in comparison to Luchesi. Or it may be so that he wanted to ascertain that Luchesi does not reach Amontillado.
Luchesi come across as a plot device helping the course of actions serving as a form of insurance for the vicious narrator and is mentioned whenever the narrator wishes to distract Fortunato. However, it is evident that Fortunato is really willing to reach the Amontillado and Montresor only toys with his vulnerability with the aid of Luchesi. Edgar Allan Poe refuses to divulge much information regarding Montresor’s family and it is left for the speculation of the avid readers. This only supplements the creepy experience of reading the story and insinuates toward the paramount villainy of the narrator.
The thematic contrast of freedom and confinement is omniscient in The Cask of Amontillado. Freedom seems to be of minimal possibility with the characters moving into smaller crypts with time. One cannot miss the “consistently developed and important theme” of the story (Gargano). The ambiance makes one feel the perils of entrapment and the worth of freedom in juxtaposition to the claustrophobic crypts. The driving force of the story is betrayal which sparks off a horrific series of retributions. In the garb of betrayal, the story talks of trust as it is in its contrast that betrayal is weaved in actions. The story explores the actions which are triggered as a man is betrayed, which may even reach the extremes of assassination. Also, the stalwart author struggled with alcohol and drugs which only finds reflection in the story which portrays the struggles in the intricate narrative and thus the grim allegory for addiction is brought out. The story is also an apt expression of the anxieties which shroud morality. In the course of the story, the human follies are amplified to become vices which exude cruelty and horror. The tragic end of the story makes one ponder over the follies of the characters.
The story has one of the most striking settings in the history of Gothic Fiction with the Gothic Interior aimed at evoking the emotions of confinement and freedom by paying thorough attention to the setting. The carnival at the inception of the story is an expression of freedom in which both the characters participate. But, during the travel through the catacomb, they move into smaller and fouler spaces, away from the fresh air, implying their ascending distance from freedom. Finally, Fortunato gets trapped in a place being bound in shackles and is bricked inside the claustrophobic crypt with no way left to escape.
Edgar Allan Poe utilizes the symbols and imagery to influence the affect of the story. The Amontillado is a significant symbol of the precious and expensive which lures the human mind. The clown costume is also symbolic as the narrator wishes Fortunato to die like a foolish person. The costume portrays the victim in a humiliating way and this is recognized by the vicious narrator. The carnival is symbolic of the celebration of the impending revenge by Montresor. The author weaves the imagery of the carnival and the claustrophobic catacombs which stand in stark juxtaposition to the freedom that reigns outside the horrific domain. The reader can envisage the suffocating journey through the crypts with time which the two embark upon in the story. The impending doom of the victim exercises enormous influence on the tumultuous emotions of the readers.
In the story, ironies “operate throughout to give special intensity to the tale” through the utilization of cultural and Roman Catholic markers (Cooney). It is ironic that Fortunato thinks of himself to be knowledgeable in regard to wine, but is attired in a Fool’s costume. The victimizer utilizes the victim’s vanity and pride to beguile him into going inside the cellar where he is meant to be killed. The name of the victim’s character, Fortunato, is in itself ironic as its meaning in Italian is the ‘fortunate one’, although at the culmination of the story his fate is the most unfortunate one. The victimizer dresses like a priest wearing a black cope at the time of a funeral. However, ironically enough, Montresor buries the victim alive “without a chance for confession” given to him (Cooney). On being enquired by Fortunato of the secret sign known by the Freemasons, the narrator shows a trowel. It is a sheer irony that the victim fails to comprehend that the trowel will be used to entomb him behind the wall. Fortunate has no idea that his end is near and he toasts the persons buried in the catacombs. In reciprocation, Montresor gestures by drinking to Fortunato’s long life knowing that his death is looming over his head.
Thus, the story grips the readers and leaves an everlasting mark in the minds employing the quintessential literary devices. “Poe anticipated modern psychology with its id, ego and superego by showing through his stories that the monsters outside are nothing compared to the monsters we carry within us.” (Bily) The story evokes pangs of horror and makes one cringe at the inevitable doom which makes the victim succumb. As one of the seminal literary works of Poe, termed as one of his “richest aesthetic achievements”, the story is immortalized in the history of English literature (Gargano).
Bily, Cynthia. “The Cask of Amontillado Criticism by Cynthia Bily.” Edgar Allan Poe
Biography & Writings. Edgar Allan Poe Biography & Writings, 2 May 2010. Web. 17
Cooney, James F. “'The Cask of Amontillado': Some Further Ironies.” Studies in Short Fiction
XI. 2 (1974): 195-96. Print.
Gargano, James W. "'The Cask of Amontillado': A Masquerade of Motive and Identity." Studies
in Short Fiction IV. 2 (1967): 119-26. Print.