Obsession And Deviance Essay, Research Paper
Obsession and Deviance
Poe presents the narrators of “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado” as devious, obsessed characters. Both are overpowered by the need to consume the life of their victim. Though they use different strategies to carry out the murders in different ways, obsession is the driving force in both. It is this obsession that inspires them to design these cunning strategies and carry out the executions.
The obsession of Montresor in “The Cask of Amontillado” and of the narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” is obvious throughout the stories. The narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” is actually obsessed with the old man’s eye, rather than the old man himself. It is this obsession with the eye that drives him to commit the murder, despite his relatively good feelings toward the old man personally. This is why he is unable to harm the old man when the eye is concealed. His obsession with the eye is what controls him and his actions. Without it in sight to enrage this obsession, he is unable to harm the old man. This also is why he must shine the lantern light upon only that eye. By leaving the rest of the old man in the dark, he in a sense de-humanizes the victim. His obsession intensifies and takes full control of his actions. He eliminates the old man from the equation and is able to charge him and make the kill.
Montresor in “The Cask of Amontillado” is similar to the narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” in that his obsession with consuming the soul of Fortunato influences his every action. However, it is with Fortunato himself that he is obsessed. He feeds off of Fortunato’s pain, unlike the narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” who’s obsession is with destroying a menacing inanimate object. Montresor’s entire conspiracy is focused around making Fortunato suffer, and for him to know just who is causing this suffering. This is why he goes to such lengths to put together this intricate strategy. It could have been so much easier to kill Fortunato in some easier, quicker way. Instead, he dedicates himself to torturing Fortunato. He creates a plan that leads Fortunato into the depths of the catacombs beneath his home, and kills him in an excruciating manner. These great lengths are taken in order to fully consume the soul of Fortunato, and to satisfy his unbearable obsession.
As stated, these obsessions control the lives of these two narrators. They are both dedicated to destroying the source of their own obsession. Both narrators attempt to devise plans that will eventually bring them towards their objective. They are both devious in their own sense, and how they setup their plans is quite thrilling. The narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” attempts to make the old man feel safe with him, and establish trust between the old man and himself. He says “I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him” (Poe 1118). He is devious and cunning in that he never gives the old man even a hint as to how that eye is making him feel. The old man does not see the attack coming, and therefore cannot be prepared. The aftermath of the murder is also well planned by the madman. Despite his obvious insanity, he is able to handle himself calmly directly after the murder, and dispose of the body where it will probably never be found. It is not until the end of the tale that his insanity causes him to lose control over himself as he gives himself in to the officers.
Montresor, on the other hand, is different from the narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” in that he appears to have his sanity, and is able to pull off the ingenious plan that he has devised. Like that narrator, however, Montresor uses cunning and misleads his victim into feeling safe in order to complete his plan. He is secretive and deviant not only to Fortunato (his victim) but to the reader as well. He trusts no one, and allows no one to stand in his way. “We will go back; your health is precious…you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible” (Poe 1115). Here he tries to mislead his victim into believing that he feels genuine concern for his health. He is continually trying to disguise his plan. Also, he cleverly blinds Fortunato of his true intentions by planting the thoughts of Amontillado inside his head. This has a crippling effect on Fortunato’s judgment as he is willing to be lead through the dark, damp catacombs in search of the great wine. Fortunato is incredibly anxious to get to the Amontillado, and Montresor uses this weakness against him well. Also, he is continuously providing the already drunk Fortunato with alcohol to further hinder his judgment and intuition. It takes Fortunato a bit of time to realize just what is happening to him as Montresor is chaining him up. Without a doubt, his reaction would have been much quicker had he been sober. Every action that Montresor carries out appears to have a distinct purpose.
To add to Fortunato’s desire to go with Montresor to the Amontillado, Montresor uses Fortunato’s ego to his advantage. By repeatedly bringing up Luchesi’s name and saying that he could just as well go with him to test the Amontillado, Montresor makes Fortunato quite jealous and offended. As a result, Fortunato desires to go with Montresor even more. He cleverly adds (referring in the quote to Luchesi) “And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own” (Poe 1114), which further angers Fortunato who continues to respond by bashing Luchesi’s ability. In fact, Fortunato’s responses to the mention of Luchesi’s name continue to grow more insulting in each consecutive instance, until he simply responds to the last mention of his name by saying “He is an ignoramus” (Poe 1116).
The narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” has a much simpler conspiracy than Montresor and has less to plan. “You should have seen how wisely I proceeded — with what caution — with what foresight — with what dissimulation I went to work” (Poe 1118 ). Clearly, the narrator here is quite proud of the plan he has contrived, and the way in which he executed it. He does setup the old man by making him feel secure. He is also very careful with how he approaches the man, never making a sound. However, beyond that there is nothing much more to the plan. The narrator’s insanity does lead him to believe that what he has contrived is ingenious. Montresor’s plan, on the other hand is quite intricate and brilliant. He has taken a different approach. It is evident that Montresor has thoroughly thought out every detail of the intricate plan well in advance. He is prepared for anything and everything. Several points must be worked out in order to setup the murder. Montresor handles them all. Not only did he have to lure Fortunato into the catacombs, he also had to make sure that nobody sees them go down there. In other words, he had to eliminate the servants, and the way in which he did so was one of his shrewdest moments. He knew that once he had left the house, the servants would all flee to the carnival despite his orders. Knowing this, he told them that they were not allowed to stir from the house. He knew that they would, and of course, they did. This accomplished two things. The servants would not be present to see him lure Fortunato into the catacombs, and if they were ever questioned as to their whereabouts on that night, they would surely say that they remained at home as ordered by Montresor. If not, they stood the chance of losing their jobs. Thus, he has set up an alibi for his house.
It has been established that Montresor’s intricate plan was well designed and thought out. What is just as impressive is how he protects this plan. As mentioned earlier, Montresor is deviant and secretive not only to Fortunato, but to the reader as well. The same cannot necessarily be said for the narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” doesn’t appear to withhold any information. Also, it doesn’t appear as if he is attempting to protect his plan from the reader. The narrator’s intentions, though, can only be guessed at. The narrator is quite obviously insane, which makes him terribly unreliable.
Montresor on the other hand makes a conscious effort to protect his plan from everyone, including the reader. For example, the hidden building stone and mortar is not revealed to the reader until he uncovers it when Fortunato is already chained to the wall. The reader, however, becomes aware of the pile of bones that are hiding the materials well before: “the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size” (Poe 1116). The reader sees this pile of bones at first as irrelevant, the same way that Fortunato sees it. He even reveals the bones as laying about the ground in no particular order, so as not to bring about any suspicion in the reader. It is almost as if he is trying to hide the mortar and building supplies from the reader just as he is trying to hide them from Fortunato.
In another similar instance, the reader is never made aware of the trowel that Montresor has been carrying all along. “Putting on a mask of black silk, and drawing a roquelaire closely about my person, I suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo” (Poe 1114). He describes his actions as he draws his roquelaire about him, but the reader is never aware that he is concealing this masonry tool at the same time. It is not until he also reveals the trowel to Fortunato that the reader is made aware of the tool, and even then is left in the dark as to what Montresor plans to do with it. It is not until Fortunato is chained up, and the building stones and mortar have been revealed that the pieces come together in the reader’s eyes. Montresor refuses to reveal his plan to anybody, and the reader never becomes aware of exactly what he is planning to do until it actually happens.
These two stories vividly show just what an extreme obsession can lead a person to do. The two narrators called upon every ounce of cunning and shrewdness that they possessed and used it to destroy the source of their obsession. Their obsessions had inspired and controlled them both, and they let nothing get in their way.