Edgar Allan Poe is an American author, poet, and a literary critic. He is best known for his ability to produce excellent Gothic stories. His way of knowing how to envelop the readers in a tense atmosphere full of suspense generates from his ability in shaping an explicit Gothic mood within his tales. Best example would be his rather famous story “The Cask of Amontillado” where he uses objective and illusive symbolic elements to create a dark mood filled with horror and impeding evil.
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Poe’s unique way of using objective elements to express a specific mood creates vivid images representing the whole narration. First of all, Poe sets a perfect environmental setting for a story. In the beginning, the action is illustrated happening in a cold night, during the carnival season. The time period itself creates a certain impression of emerging darkness, and the use of carnival strengthens the impression as well: “It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend” (pg 124, pr 5). In this quote author emphasizes the supreme madness of the carnival, which can be collated with narrators madness. Furthermore, the following setting of the story also considerably affects the mood. Catacomb symbolizes death. It represents the place for burial, so when narrator leads Fortunato to the catacomb, the mood of the story thickens with a growing suspicion and anxiety. In addition to that, the catacomb is filled with an intoxicating smell of nitre and ancient bones, skeletons, and other human remains. All these objects are the main elements of the dark Gothic style: “At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less spacious. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris” (pg.126; pr. 68).
Although, the visual objective elements are important in producing a specific feeling, symbolic elements have a bigger impact in sharpening the Gothic mood through the story. First of all, narrator who is also the main character of the story by the name Montresor is an evil symbolic figure himself. In the beginning of the story he introduces his manic side to the readers. Montresor’s insanity is the key in creating a dark mood from early on: “You who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled – but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk.” (pg.123; pr.1) Furthermore, Montresor’s hidden sarcasm towards Fortunato is also worth attention: “I was so pleased to see him that I should never have done wringing his hand. I said to him /My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day/” (pg. 124; pr.4) In this quote Montresor uses hidden derision to express his mockery by saying the opposite as Fortunato wears a tight-fitting parti-stripped dress and the cap with bells, making him look ridiculous. Another part where suspense gets considerably heavy is where Montresor notes about the absence of his workers. There Montresor reveals his serious intentions of fulfilling his revenge against Fortunato: “There were no attendants at home; they had absconded to make merry in honor of the time. 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.” (pg.125; pr.24) Montresor’s mysterious plotting intensifies the building suspense, and the mood becomes grave and even more suspicious. However, the most promising symbolic moment in the story is the part where Montresor and Fortunato are engaged in discussion about Montresor’s family motto: “The Montresor’s/ I replied, /were a great and numerous family./I forget your arms./A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are embedded in the heel./And the motto?/Nemo me impune lacessit./” (pg.125, pr.25) Although, Fortunato does not realize it, Montresor reveals his hidden anger and his oath to vengeance. Poe perfectly darkens the atmosphere in this particular dialogue as Fortunato stays clueless after Montresor shows his double faced personality. When the story gets closer to the end, the forthcoming danger gets more and more visible till Montresor finally traps Fortunato affecting the mood dramatically: “A moment more and I had fettered him to the granite. In its surface were two iron staples, distant from each other about two feet, horizontally. From one of these depended a short chain. from the other a padlock. Throwing the links about his waist, it was but the work of a few seconds to secure it. He was too much astounded to resist.” (pg.127; pr.71) The intensity of suspense and fear reaches the culmination until the very last paragraph where the mood finally becomes neutral.
All in all, mood is one of the key elements at bringing the story to the life and lets the readers experience the story on their own and Poe is successful in creating a fitting atmosphere by using all the elements of the Gothic style.
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