A Tale Of Two Murders Essay, Research Paper
A tale of two murders:
Comparing the “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.
Edgar Allan Poe has often been considered the father of the psychological thriller. Two of his best examples are “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado.” Both are excellent short stories that tell of murder, revenge, and madness. The narrators of “The Tell-Tale Heart” and the “The Cask of Amontillado” are trying to convince the reader of their sanity but have only become victims of the madness, which they had hoped to escape. By analyzing the differences and the similarities of “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” one can see that Poe uses a certain approach in creating these two works.
Poe has been the center of many critical studies; most trying to dissect his mind and get into the heart and meaning of his work, “Criticism now tends to ask, not whether Poe is a great writer, but why” (Buranelli 132). Poe’s characters in both “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado” confess of murder. Not only do they both commit murder, but they also escape external punishment and suffer endless internal turmoil. Therefore, “The punishment comes not from a church, a law, or even from society: it comes from some inner compulsion of the evil-doer
himself who suffers…Thus he has willed his crime and he wills his retribution” (Davidson 189). Both characters take the lives of the men in the stories with little regard, “These characters are themselves god-players” (Davidson 189). In “The Tell-Tale Heart” the narrator confesses to the unsuspected police to receive his punishment, ” in this respect the god easily passes into the devil and becomes his maker and his slayer both”(Davidson 190).
In both stories, the reader becomes quickly aware of the fact that both narrators are not reliable. The narrators feel that they performed the murders so calmly so there is no way they could be mad. In both stories the narrator is continually stressing to the reader that he is not mad, and tries to be convincing of the fact by how carefully these brutal crimes were planned and executed. The reader is invited into the inner workings of the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” and Montresor’s sinister minds. Montresor starts from the beginning pleading for his sanity; “It must be understood that neither by word or by deed had I given Fortunado cause to doubt my good will. …to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation” (209). The same is true in “The Tell-Tale Heart”, the narrator wants us to believe his sanity only to confirm our thoughts that he really is mad, “You should have seen how wisely I proceeded- with what caution- with what foresight- with what
dissimulation I went to work!” (543). When an author creates a situation where the protagonist tells a personal account, the overall impact of the story is heightened. This allows the audience to see what the narrator is really thinking, his own perception in justifying murder.
Human nature is a delicate balance of light and dark or good and evil. Most of the time this balance is maintained. However, when there is a shift the dark side surfaces. How and why this dark side emerges differs from person to person. In “The Tell-Tale Heart , it is the “vulture eye” of the old man that makes the narrator’s blood run cold, in “The Cask of Amontillado”, it is a “thousand injuries of Fortunado.” It is this irrational fear which evokes the dark side, and eventually leads to murder. The narrators repeatedly insist that they are not mad, but the reader soon realizes that both of the narrators’ fears have consumed them.
Both narrators have shut out human emotion as much as they could. Yet they both have moments of pity for their victims. In “The Cask of Amontillado” it is one brief moment followed by an explanation, “My heart grew sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so” (214). He catches himself feeling sorry for Fortunado but is too proud to continue. In “The Tell-Tale Heart the narrator openly admits his feelings, but he had no hate for his victim to begin with, “I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart” (544).
Another strange similarity between the stories is the burial placement. Both narrators bury their victims under their houses. This emphasizes their insanity; there are several reasons for this. One reason could be that they are keeping them as trophies. Another reason is that the homes symbolize the murders’ minds and the basement represents their subconscious. Edward Davidson author of “Poe: A Critical Study states ” No one can understand or can interpret, in this moral region of Poe’s lost souls, why he must be punished” (189). The stories endings and the narrator’s punishment depends on how deep the narrator is able to put their victims under their houses and, therefore, how deep in their subconscious. Furthermore, ” It is false to call him little more than an artist of nightmares, hallucinations, insane crimes and weird beauties, little more than an intuitive poetic genius dabbling in pretentious logic when he is not lost in the black forest of pathological psychology” (Buranelli 21). Poe reaches inside all of us with all his works, makes us reexamine our selves and our own actions.
“The Tell-Tale Heart and “The Cask of Amontillado” are both stories of premeditated murder. In “The Tell-Tale Heart” the narrator is convinced that the old man in the story has an evil eye that becomes a passion of loathing for him (Davidson 189). The Cask of Amontillado according to Quinn, “is a powerful tale of revenge in which the interest lies in the
implacable nature of the narrator, By his apparent unwillingness to lead his enemy to his family vaults, he deepens his revenge” (500). In “The Cask of Amontillado” the narrator, Montresor, is avenging his family s motto: “Nemo me impune lacessit” or “No one assails me with impunity,” and in “The Tell-Tale Heart” the narrator is removing the evil eye from his life.
From the very beginning of the stories, you can see the similarities. The setting sets up the mood and in both “The Tell-Tale Heart” and The Cask of Amontillado” the setting is darkness. Poe uses this darkness in the setting as a blunt metaphor for the minds of both narrators. “The Tell-Tale Heart” covers a period of approximately eight days with most of the important action occurring each night around midnight. The location never changes from the elderly mans house. In “The Cask of Amontillado” the story begins around dusk, one evening during the carnival season in an unnamed European city. The location quickly changes from the lighthearted activities to the dark, damp catacombs under Montresor’s house.
One of the major differences in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado” is the cause behind each murder. In “The Tell-Tale Heart” the old man had done nothing to the narrator, “He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult” (542). In “The Cask of Amontillado, the
opposite is true. Even thought Montresor never tells what Fortunado did it was enough for him to want revenge, “The thousand injuries of Fortunado I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge” (209).
The narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” eventually lets his guilty subconscious take over and he imagines that the sound of the old mans beating heart is so loud that the police officers can hear it also. This sound he imagines drives him to the point of complete madness, “They heard! – they suspected! – they knew! – they were making a mockery of my horror!” (546). He eventually confesses at the peak of his mental break down, “In the end, if a wrong is done, society never punishes the criminal: he is caught by a malignant fate which had long foreseen the moral being of the criminal himself. For he becomes, as in “The Tell-Tale Heart” his own judge and executioner” (Davidson 210). In “The Cask of Amontillado, Montresor is now confessing but only to a dear friend that he feels will understand his need for revenge, “You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat” (209). He is only telling this story because if no one knew of his murder it would have been in vain. He is proud of his accomplishments and wants someone to be amazed at his story.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado” are gripping
horror tells with many similarities and some differences. Coming straight from the minds of both narrators, who are obviously unreliable, the stories are taken to a new level of intensity. The plots of premeditated murder and the settings full of darkness show that Poe had the same basic outline for both stories.