Ironies In The Cast Of Amontillado Essay

, Research Paper

Ironies Found in ?The Cask of Amontillado?

In the short story ?The Cask of Amontillado,? Edgar Allan Poe writes in the first person point of view from the perspective of Montresor, the diabolic narrator of this tale, who vowed revenge against Fortunato. Montresor began to develop the perfect plan for retribution. During the carnival season, Montresor encounters Fortunato and decides to implement his plan carefully not to arouse Fortunato?s suspicions through irony. Poe uses different types of irony throughout the story. The three different types of irony that he uses are dramatic, verbal, and situational irony.

Dramatic irony is when the reader perceives something that a character in the story does not. This occurs when 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, who is anything but fortunate, and dressing him in a clown or fool?s costume since Montresor intends to make a fool of him as part of his dark plan. Through the ironic naming of the characters, Poe gives visual images to the readers. The naming of Fortunato, which is ironic since he is anything but fortunate, suggests a lucky or fortunate person (Womack 5). He is given the name ?Fortunato? though to make him appear as a ?fool? (Womack 4). Montresor says that ?Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack? (Lowell 214). Montresor?s name being associated with ?treasure? gives the reader an image of a rich and powerful man (Gruesser 129). The reader becomes aware of Montresor?s plan when he informs us that he is going to continue to smile in Fortunato?s face while using Fortunato?s pride in his wine to lure him into the catacombs to taste some of his imaginary Amontillado. This whole scene is ironic because Fortunato is being interpreted as a fool in his costume while Montresor is giving him wine and leading him to his death. On the other hand, Montresor seems so innocent as to what he plans to do. Another example of Poe?s dramatic irony occurs as the two men are walking down to the catacombs and Fortunato notices the Montresor coat of arms. Fortunato says, ?I forget your arms.? And Montresor replies, ?A huge human foot d?or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel? (Poe 1569). Peeples quotes, ?The Montresor family could be represented by the foot, which crushes its enemies, or the snake, which sinks its fangs into the heel of its adversary, by bringing to mind the flag used by the American Revolutionaries reading ?Don?t tread on me.? In either case, both the foot and the snake are injured, perhaps fatally; neither wins? (150). What is so ironic about this is that Montresor thinks that he wins by getting rid of his enemy when really he is not a winner at all.

Throughout the story, Montresor uses verbal irony numerous times to foreshadow his intentions to the audience. One use of this verbal irony is in Montresor?s concern for Fortunato?s health. Montresor tells Fortunato that his health is precious and that they should turn back so Fortunato does not become ill (Poe 1569). Fortunato responds saying, ?The cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me? (1569). Montresor knowing how Fortunato will die responds, ?True-True? (1569). In fact, Montresor could care less about Fortunato?s health; he is just concerned about his own advantage of manipulation by luring him into the catacombs to carry out his plan. Montresor also intends to be responsible for Fortunato?s death. Montresor does not want Fortunato to die of a cough or from the catacombs but of his own destruction. The drunken Fortunato is the only one in the story who is unaware of Montresor?s real motives. Secondly Poe uses verbal irony in Montresor?s toast to Fortunato?s long life. Montresor says, ?Drink. . .? (1569). The Fortunato says, ?I drink. . . to the buried that repose around us? (1569). Then again, Montresor says, ?And I to your long life? (1569). Montresor, however, does not intend for Fortunato to live for very long at all. On the contrary, Montresor is toasting because he wants Fortunato to accompany his ancestors in the catacombs. Furthermore, Montresor addresses Fortunato as his dear friend when they first encounter each other. Fortunato believes that Montresor is his friend when actually he intends to make a fool out of him. Thus, Montresor states, ?My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day! But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and have my doubts? (1568). Montresor calls Fortunato ?dear? when he hates this man with a passion. He also knows that Fortunato is not dressed appropriately; he is dressed as a clown, but Montresor still compliments him on his attire because his clothing fits with Montresor?s plans–to make a fool out of him. Moreover, Montresor points out, ?My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature? (1568). Montresor again calls him his friend which is ironic because he hates Fortunato and considers him an enemy. He also says that Fortunato is good, but Montresor knows that he is not good because Fortunato insulted him. After being insulted by Fortunato, Montresor is not about to consider him a true friend and has planned to kill him out of revenge.

Poe uses numerous examples of situational irony throughout the story. There is situational irony in the fact that the crime takes place during a celebration. Likewise, at a time of jubilee and celebration, one would not expect a tragedy to occur. Poe uses this fact as situational irony to have Montresor meet up with Fortunato, Fortunato is dressed in a fool?s costume or a clown costume. Montresor describes his outfit as the following, ?He had on a tight-fitting parti striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells? (Poe 1568). This costume is not only for celebration, but is later used ironically to show Fortunato walking like a fool to his death. The fact that the narrator mentions the ?jingling of the bells? several times after fifty years indicates that he is haunted with a memory of their sound. Poe knew that the audience would relate the terrifying sound of the bells to premature burial. Premature burial was a concern during the nineteenth century when Poe wrote this short story (Platizky 206). Live burial is practiced during this time as a form of capital punishment in Europe (206). Platizky also quotes that it was a ?Rite of social purification? (207). Another critic states that ?being buried alive was the severe punishment for sexual offenses and grand larceny? (Van Dulmen 117). With Poe?s fear of being buried alive, these bells have a horrifying sound to him. Being buried alive is such a fear during this time that many people (especially the wealthier classes) have special coffins made (Platizky 206). These coffins have special ?sounding devices? so that if a person is buried alive he or she can set off this type of alarm (206). Also, another common practice during this time involves the ?placing of bells on the limbs of the recently dead? (206). Poe uses the horrifying sound of these bells to appeal to the auditory senses of the audience. The sound of these bells has a frightening effect on the audience. Every time Montresor takes special notice of the sound of bells, the audience is made aware of the surrounding silence. ?The bells upon his cap jingles as he strode,? is one sentence in which Montresor takes specific notice of the sound of these bells. After Montresor finishes building the wall ?there came forth in return only a jingling of the bells.? (Poe 1571) ?The ironic jingling of the bells which marks the end of ?The Cask of Amontillado?? (Fagin 204). The reader is left with only the sound of the bells, a sound that even he or she cannot help but recall after reading the story. One can imagine the effect the sound of these bells would have when the story is performed. The final and most memorable sound would be the jingling of the bells.

In this tale of revenge, Poe illustrates dramatic, verbal, and situational ironies between Montresor and Fortunato. Poe uses these aspects to shape the story in virtually every way possible. Montresor preys upon Fortunato?s tendency to drink as well as upon his vanity. Poe?s story reveals that Fortunato?s fate is death not life. Montresor is so evil that he tries to convince the reader that his intentions are honorable. Every detail of irony is so perfectly crafted to show Montresor?s cleverness to deceive his ?dear friend? Fortunato by implying one thing but actually meaning another. . . Montresor skillfully illustrates a confession of a murderer and justification for the actions; hence, a tale of simple revenge becomes a tightly woven work of the narrator?s evil mind.

Fagin, N. Bryllion. The Historic Mr. Poe. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1949.

Gruesser, John. ?Poe?s ?The Cask of Amontillado;? Criticism and Interpretation.? The Explicator (1998): 129-30.

Lowell, James R. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. New York: The Book League of America, 1940.

Peeples, Scott. Edgar Allan Poe Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998.

Platizky, Roger. ?Poe?s ?Cask of Amontillado;? Criticism and Interpretation.? The Explicator (1998): 206-10.

Poe, Edgar Allan. ?The Cask of Amontillado.? The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Vol. 1. Ed. Nina Baym et al. 5th ed. New York: Norton, 1998. 1567-72.

Van Dulmen, Richard. ?Rituals of Execution in Early Modern Germany.? The Social Dimension of Western Civilization. 4th ed. Ed. Richard M. Golden. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin?s, 1999. 112-25.

Womack, Martha. ?The Cask of Amontillado.? .


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