Cask Of Amontillado And Black Cat Essay

, Research Paper

Shrout 1 Aspects and Analysis of Edgar Allen Poe’s " The Cask of

Amontillado" and the "Black Cat" What makes literary works

considered great, and furthermore what makes the greatness of the work withstand

the test of time? The answer to both of these questions is the same. Greatness

of literary work that withstands the test of time is due to the fact that their

meaning is still seen and identified with by people today, and still evokes

interest in the reader, even though these works were written decades, sometimes

centuries earlier. When works of literature have with stood the test of time,

and are still considered great, these works are analyzed as to why they are so.

One author’s work that has come under much critical analysis to what aspects of

his work make them so great is Edgar Allen Poe. Two works in particular that

have come under analysis are "The Cask of Amontillado", and the

"Black Cat". Under analysis, it has been determined that there are

three aspects of Poe’s writing that make his stories literary classics. These

three aspects of his writing are style, theme and use of irony. What are these

three aspects, and how are they used in Poe’s work? Style Edgar Allen Poe’s

literary style has been analyzed in many different ways. It is believed that it

is the style and the view that the reader is given that make his short stories

so compelling. His style is made up of two closely connected parts that

influence the structure of his stories greatly. The first part of his style is

the perception that Poe gives the reader. The perception that the reader gets

can only be achieved by the Shrout 2 second part of his style which is the use

of the first person narrative that both "The Cask of Amontillado", and

the "The Black Cat" posses. These two connected parts, the perception

and first person narrative, give the stories a sense of realism. Although by

pure critical analysis of the story, a reader may determine that the central

characters of the stories "The Cask of Amontillado, and "The Black

Cat" are insane, not only for there actions, but there thinking as well. As

readers, we should not look at Poe’s stories objectively. "There is no

possible way to obtain from any of Poe’s gothic tales an objective viewpoint

because every word is relayed to the reader directly though the

narrator"(Saliba 70). We believe in all the narrative that the central

character gives, not only on what he sees and does, but also about what he is

thinking. "?the dramatic action of all the stories is directly created by

the narrative voice"(Saliba 70). This is precisely Poe’s intention. As

readers, if we believe that the characters are insane, and there perception of

the world is clouded, we would not believe that what the characters see and feel

is not really happening, then we miss Poe’s intentions entirely: What is

important is that the reader give credence to the idea that the narrator

believes in his own perception; that what he perceives is surely more true to

him than whatever objective reality the reader might think he sees, or as Poe’s

intended underlying reality of the situation. It is far more important that the

reader trust Shrout 3 the narrator as far as the narrator’s perception is

concerned than that he skip him mentally to reassure himself of Poe’s sane

artistic control the whole time the reader is pursing the story; otherwise he

will be missing the opportunity of enjoying the artistic experience Poe has

intentionally provided (Saliba 68) As for the style of the first person

narrative, it gives the story a totally different perception and feeling, not

found in most short stories. With most short stories, the plot is told from the

outside looking in, in the third person form. As readers, besides the occasional

description, we never get to really determine the true feeling of the central

character. However with Poe’s first person narrative, as readers look from the

inside of the main characters head to the real world as Poe’s character sees it.

"The intended function of Poe’s narrator is to captivate the reader’s

conscious mind and mesmerize his senses to the extent that he cannot help

identifying with the narrator to some degree"(Saliba 70). With this style

of character portrayal, we as readers know at all times what the central

character is thinking and feeling, and how it influences their actions. In order

for a reader to fully appreciate Poe’s art, the reader must willingly fully

participate in the story (Saliba 70). Theme Theme is the second part of Edgar

Allen Poe’s writing that makes his stories so intriguing. The theme of all his

works has been described has grotesque and arabesque. Shrout 4 "The

grotesque suggests more strongly a yoking of the chaotic, fearful and the comic;

the arabesque suggests more strongly a sense of ironic perspectives in the midst

of confusion and ominoisness. Both suggest the struggle to understand the

incomprehensible, neither term meaning anything absolutely exclusive of the

other, both focused on the tension between conscious control and subconscious

fear and delusion"(Thompson 109). The types of themes that are present in

the "The Cask of Amontillado", and "The Black Cat", are

premature burial, which is only seen in "The Cask of Amontillado",

although wall in the main character’s victims is seen in both stories. The

premature burial was brought about as a result of an act of revenge, however the

motivation of the main character in "The Black Cat" is different. He

is driven to madness by the cat, which in the end becomes his own downfall, but

both characters are seeking to commit the perfect crime. "What the narrator

describes is what he would call a "flawless plot", that is, a plot to

commit a crime and get away with it. But it is precisely the plot or the pattern

that gives it away"(May 78). Theses themes greatly influence the characters

involved in the plot as they pertain the story line. The use of premature burial

as a way to enact Montresor revenge on Fortunado in "The Cask of

Amontillado" has many uses. "The reason that premature burial is so

appealing to Poe is that it embodies the idea of an awareness or a perception of

one’s lack of control. Such an awareness engenders fear"(Saliba 79). The

time period in which the "The Cask of Amontillado takes place, premature

burial was a common way of fulfilling revenge. The reason for this is simple.

The idea of premature burial as a means for Shrout 5 revenge either by walled in

or being buried alive victims still leaves room flaw. This flaw is known and

intended by the person acting out the revenge. Divine intervention is the flaw

that exists in the almost perfect scheme. This divine intervention comes as an

outlet for which the person seeking revenge could escape to. For example, if a

person is buried alive or walled in as a result of revenge, then if the revenge

were injustice, then God would step in as divined intervention and save the

person from death. If the revenge were justified, then the person’s death as a

result of being buried alive or walled in would only be right, and just. Also

the use of premature burial, and or walling in someone, as a use of revenge is

near flawless, except for divine intervention. When burying someone alive, or

walling someone in, all evidence is concealed, and natural death is the actual

cause of death. This method of revenge destroys motive for killing rendering it

impossible for a person to be convicted of his or her crimes. The theme and

motive are direct influences on one another in "The Black Cat". On the

surface, the motive appears to be his common household black cat, his hatred for

this animal drove to madness and the final ironic conclusion, but the black cat

posses much more meaning then that. "The Black Cat"(1843) carries the

same themes further and details more clearly the irrational desire, almost

ultimate irony, to act against oneself, with an ambiguous conclusion suggesting

the agency of malevolent fortune at the same time that it suggests subconscious

self-punishment"(Thompson 172). We as readers can also see, his obsessive

tendencies in the story, for example he abuses and kills his first cat, and yet

he gets another one just like it, even with only one eye. "The

"cause" of the Shrout 6 image of the cat is the obsessive nature of

the narrator that has been translated into the obsessive unity of the story – a

unity that demands the plaster image of the cat, just has it demands the

reappearance of another cat that reflects the first – a cat that, like the

original one, has lost one eye and has the image of the gallows around its

neck"(May 75). The narrator has no sense of guilt for his actions, yet he

is happy, filled with glee, that his wife’s body rots behind the wall that he

built (May 75). His guiltlessness and obsessive nature towards the cat is seen

in full effect at the climatic end of the story. "It did not make its

appearance during the night; and thus for one night at least since its

introduction into the house, I soundly and tranquilly slept – ay, slept even

with the burden of murder upon my soul"(Poe, Tales of Mystery and

Imagination 346)! "To embody both agony and exultation at once is the

essence of the paradox that makes up his obsession – his motiveless

motive?."(May 75). There seems to no apparent reason the reader can

detect for the main character’s obsession and hatred for the cat that causes his

own demise. Lastly, how the motive and theme tie together, which is seen in both

stories "The Cask of Amontillado", and the "The Black Cat"

is the flawless plan, which in both cases results in main characters downfall.

There is no such thing as a perfect crime. No matter how hard one tries, there

will always be some kind of evidence to convict someone of his or her crimes. In

both stories, the attempt to pull off a perfect crime results in the main

characters ending conflict. In "The Cask of Amontillado, Montresor’s plan

is only flawed by the fact that he confesses his murder in the end of the tale.

However in "The Shrout 7 Black Cat" he overlooks the fact that he

walls the cat with his murdered wife, which causes him to get caught. Use of

Irony The last and most easily seen aspects of Poe’s writing is the heavy use of

irony. This use of irony is very present in both stories "The Cask of

Amontillado" and "The Black Cat". It is this use of irony that

makes the story so great. The difference between the two uses of irony in both

stories is that in "The Cask of Amontillado" irony seems to be

subtler, which sets up and strengthens the ending, whereas in "The Black

Cat", the only use of irony is the ending. In the "The Cask of

Amontillado", there are basically two types of irony present. The first is

the irony, which Montresor uses on Fortunado to enable his revenge to take

place, and the second is, the irony that follows the pattern of the story (May

79-80). For example, in "The Cask of Amontillado" the first and most

obvious use of irony in the story is the fact that Montresor had explicitly

ordered for his servants to stay home, so that that he could enact his revenge

(May 79). This use of irony is directly engaged by Montresor. It is seen again

to lure Fortunado into his catacomb grave. "?Montresor creates and

controls [the irony], – such as urging Fortunado to leave the dangerous

catacombs, knowing that the more he urges him to leave the more he will want to

stay?"(May 80). The last and most prolific of all the ironies set up by

Montresor is the comment that he makes to Fortunado: Among the ironies created

and sustained by Montresor are the verbal ironies of telling Fortunado he is

"luckily" met, agreeing Shrout 8 with him that he will not die of a

cough, and drinking a toast to his long life. Such remarks are understood by the

reader as ironic, of course, only after the story has ended and one understands

its overall pattern; however, because Montresor has already constructed his plot

and thus predetermined its end, he can engage in ironies that give pleasure to

him both as he utters them in the past and he tells the story in the present

(May 80). On the other hand, the other use of irony is created and sustained by

the pattern of the story. For example, Fortunado believes that he is a wine

expert, which is used as the lure for him enter the catacombs. Also, Fortunado

is wearing the cap and bells of a fool, a fool who is ironically about to be

buried alive (May 80). The last, subtlest, and the greatest of the ironies in

the story, is the confession. If we analyze the way the story is written, it

starts of telling the story in the first person present, but in the last

paragraph, turns to telling the story in the past tense. This change in tense

has brought about many hypothesis and theories as to why there would be a change

in tense. "We legitimately hypothesize that the listener is a priest and

that Montresor is an old man who is dying and making a final

confession"(May 80). Yet this perfect revenge brings about two ironies,

both closely related. The first is that, as Montresor is telling the story, and

though the climatic ending, he feels that his revenge is just, and feels no

remorse for his actions, yet as he describes, after a half century he is

confessing to his crimes, which would show sorrow, and forgiveness of his sin.

""The thousand injuries of Fortunado I had borne as Shrout 9 best I

could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge"(3:1256). The

reader has no way of knowing what these "thousand injuries" and the

mysterious insult are and thus can make no judgment about whether Montresor’s

revenge is justifiable"(May 79). Although this is true, telling the story

brings about the second irony. "Thus, Montresor’s plot to murder Fortunado

so delights him by its perfection that in the very telling of it he undercuts

its nature as repentant confession and condemns himself in gleeful

boast"(May 81). This confession of his crimes and enjoyment of the

perfection from which the crime was committed, undermines and negates that fact

that he is even confessing to repent his sins. This is the final and ultimate

irony: "The Cast of Amontillado" (1846), on the surface a tale of

successful and remorseless revenge, we have seen to be Montresor’s deathbed

confession, to an implied listener, of a crime that has tortured him for fifty

years. At the conclusion of the tale, the apparently remorseless Montresor

recounts the sudden sickening of heart he felt at the end " – on account of

the dampness of the catacombs," he hastily supplies. But ironically his

"revenge," as Montresor himself defines it, has failed on every count

(Thompson 174). The use of irony in "The Black Cat", however is not

purposefully set up by the main character, but by the pattern of the story.

Unlike "The Cask of Amontillado", where Shrout 10 irony is seen from

beginning to end in two forms, there is only one use of irony that exists in

"The Black Cat". This use of irony is not seen until the very end of

the story. The main characters obsession that builds through the story, which

brings about the hatred for the black cat that he owns, makes for the irony. In

the end as described in the story, he tries killing the cat with an ax, and is

stopped by his wife. In is obsessive hatred for the cat, and rage that

enthralled him by being almost tripped down the stairs by the cat, and because

his wife stopped him from killing the cat, the main character buries the ax in

the head of his wife. Here is the first part of the irony that exists. The cat

with which he is so obsessed with and hates, has brought him into killing his

wife, and because of his obsession and hatred for the black cat, the narrator

feels no remorse or guilt for his crime. In an attempt to flawlessly hide his

crime, he not only wall in his wife’s carcass, but also the hated black cat.

This is the set up for the second, and most climatic irony of the story. After

investigation into the missing wife, authorities search the narrator’s home, and

eventually venture into the basement where both the cat and his wife are walled

in. In an attempt to mock the authorities in their fruitless search, the main

character knocks on the wall commenting on the well-constructed house.

"That the cat embodies this very image of paradoxical perverseness is

suggested by the narrator describes the sound it makes when he raps on the wall:

"a howl – a wailing shriek, half of horror, half of triumph, such as might

have risen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the

damnation"(3:859)"(May 75). The black cat, which he overlooked and

buried with his wife, has yet again comeback to haunt him. The black cat’s cry

alerts the police that Shrout 11 there is something behind the fake wall, and

upon investigation the body of his murdered wife is discovered: In the next, a

dozen stout arms were toiling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already

greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the

spectators. Upon its head with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat

the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing

voice had consigned me to hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb

(Poe, Tales of Mystery and Imagination 349) After analyzing the three aspects of

Poe’s writing, style, theme and use of irony, we as readers have a better

understanding of not only how to read Poe’s tales, but also the meaning that

goes much deeper then the surface of the story. The unique perception that that

Poe’s gives his stories enables the reader to identify with the main characters’

thoughts, actions and feeling. Also, the themes he uses, although at times are

grotesque, are original, and entice the reader, showing the darker side of the

human soul. Lastly, the use of heavy irony gives Poe’s stories an unpredictable

edge that keeps the reader coming back again and again to read his Gothic tales.

These three aspects of Poe’s ingenious writing make them the literary classics

that they are today.

May, Charles E. Edgar Allen Poe: "A Study of the Short Fiction."

New York: Twayne Publishers, 1981. 78-81. Poe, Edgar A. Tales of Edgar Allen

Poe. New York: Books of Wonder, 1991. 51-59. Poe, Edgar A. Tales of Mystery and

Imagination. New Jersey: Castle Book Sales Inc. 339-349. Saliba, David R. A

Psychology of Fear: " The Nightmare Formula of Edgar Allen Poe." New

York: UP of America, 1980. 69,70,79. Thompson, G.R. Poe’s Fiction: "

Romantic Irony in Gothic Tales." Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin

Press, 1973. 13,14, 99-103, 109,172-174.


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