“It is because I liked Edgar Allan Poe’s stories so much that I began to make suspense films” (Alfred Hitchcock, from an interview first published in 1960).
Edgar Allan Poe was a poet as well as an editor, a novelist, a short story writer, and an essayist. He was a pathfinding theorist of the short story, who grounds us in a theory of short fiction and its affects. In this paper we will work on his short story “The Cask of Amontillado”. It is a great tale of suspense and revenge. We will analyze its aesthetic elements and work on the theory of irony that Poe describes so cleverly in this story.
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This story is a case of premeditated murder. He uses first-person viewpoints because the subjectivity inherent in a first-person account emphasizes human weakness while adding a layer of confusion and darkness to the narration. The action and dialogue carry a great deal of connotative value, he seems to address someone familiar, as it can be found the narrator says he writes to those who know the “nature of my soul”. Montresor tells the story of the night when he took his revenge on Fortunato, a fellow nobleman. Angry over some unspecified insult, he plots to murder his friend during Carnival, a season that represents joy, contrasting to the following actions. Montresor chooses the exact moment when the man is drunk, dizzy, and wearing a jester’s motley. Montresor attracts him into the catacombs to try a cask of amontillado and then seals him away to die there. The story’s setting contributes greatly to the increasing atmosphere of horror, as Poe’s treatments of time and place cause the readers to predict, to fear, and tremble in the opening action. The festival gives Montresor an excellent opportunity not only to appear in disguise, but to locate his drunken companion and attract him into his deadly cave. As Montresor describes the indoor setting to which he leads his friend the sense of darkness reappears and visits thoughts. The atmosphere of horror increases much more as Montresor describes his descent with Fortunato into the vaults. Although the subject matter of Poe’s story is a murder, “The Cask of Amontillado” is not a tale of detection. There is no investigation of Montresor’s crime and the criminal himself explains how he committed the murder more than a half century earlier. He never faces criminal punishment for his evil actions. The mystery is in Montresor’s reason for murder. His motive is uncertain other than the vague “thousand injuries that he has suffered at the hands of Fortunatoâ€¦” to which he refers. And it shows that he is not a reliable narrator because of his tendency to exaggerate terribly. Montresor tries to convince the reader that his intentions are honorable in an effort to uphold his family motto “Nemo me impune lacessit” (No one insults me with impunity).
This story is built on irony since the beginning. In the title we have the word Cask, which means wine barrel, but it is derived from the same root word used to form casket, meaning coffin, so since the title the author tells us that the story is about the coffin of Amontillado. Irony, both dramatic and verbal, plays an important role in this process. Dramatic irony occurs when the reader becomes painfully aware of what will become of Fortunato even though the character continues his descent into the catacombs in pursuit of the Amontillado. Poe further adds to this effect by calling the character Fortunato (It is ironic that in this story a man of misfortune should be named Fortunato), and dressing him in a fool’s costume since Montresor intends to make a fool of him as part of his dark plan.
There are several examples of verbal irony within Montresor’s words. He says one thing and means something else. Montresor early on, for example, gives explicit orders to his attendants, not to leave the house, knowing that this will ensure that they would. Very frequently in the text we can see Montresor calling Fortunato his friend, while taking him to death. We can also see it when he says “Once more let me implore you to return”, when he expresses concern about Fortunato’s health – your health is precious – and several times he suggests that they should turn back for fear that Fortunato’s cough would worsen as a result of the cold and dampness of the catacombs; However, Montresor was secure that by asking him to return Fortunato would continue. Fortunato says that his cough will not kill him. “A cough won’t kill me”, he says, and Montresor replies, “True, true”. This is one of the most memorable lines of the story, because he was sure that the cause of his death would not be his cough. Another sentence to be analyzed is “You are a man to be missed”, it is clear that he was already warning Fortunato of his near death. The narrator also says while asking him to go back “I cannot be responsible”, but he was conscious that he would be the only one responsible for that murder. Other examples can be seen when Montresor toasts Fortunato’s long life, while he knew that it was close to an awful end, as well as when he says that he is a mason, but not in the sense that Fortunato means. Fortunato wanted to verify if Montresor was a member of the Freemasonry, but when he said he was what he really means is that he is a bricklayer about to brick him in for all of eternity. This shows that Montresor got the revenge he vowed to get against Fortunato, whose taste for wine and pride of his expertise on the subject has led him to his own death. And we are reminded of the coat of arms and the Montresor family motto. The insignia is symbolic of Montresor’s evil character, who like the serpent intends to get revenge. In the last dialogue that they had, there is another ironic sentence: “Let us be gone”, because Montresor was going back upstairs, while Fortunato would be gone forever, “for the love of God”.
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In Montresor’s last words there is the last example of irony, it happened when Montresor realized that his so called friend had passed away at last. He called Fortunato’s name repeatedly, with no answer though. Montresor threw his torch into the small hole and it fell into Fortunato’s place of death. His last words to his friend were “In pace requiescat,” which in Latin means “rest in peace.” The irony can be interpreted in two ways, one is Montresor wishing his friend to rest in peace after have killing Fortunato himself more than on purpose, premeditated. The other one can be seen as the literal meaning of “in pace” which is a “secure, monastic prison.” These words can symbolize Fortunato’s crypt or in other words prison, which is meant to be safe due to its depth underground and behind the brick wall Montresor had built up, whilst monastic because the location is extremely isolated and also it can be interpreted as a religious area because of the all the human bones and other remains all around.
The irony in the story summarizes the devious way in which the relationship between Montresor and Fortunato is presented by Poe. He uses black humor in Montresor’s dialogue with Fortunato, in his indirect insinuation at Fortunato’s upcoming murder, and creates a sense of irony around death. This story can’t be described as diabolical. What finally comes out as its real excellence is the efficient presentation of an easily recognizable, although dark, aspect of human nature.
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