Critical Analysis Of Poe

’s A Cask Of Amontillado Essay, Research Paper

A Critical Analysis of Poe s The Cask of Amontillado

Poe s The Cask of Amontillado is a story about revenge and the workings of the twisted mind of a man who is intent on it. In this selection, there are many examples of symbolism and foreshadowing. The theme that is prevalent is man s domination of his fortune which has been unkind to him.

The first and main idea of symbolism comes into the story when Poe describes Fortunato s dress. He s described as wearing motley, like a jester. This costume is appropriate for Fortunato s character in several ways. First of all, Fortunato is said to have given Montressor the thousand injuries for what he is being avenged for. This in itself makes the jester costume appropriate. Another aspect of the symbolism of the jester costume is that in medieval times, a cruel king would have a court jester executed when his majesty thought the jester had lost his charm– if the jokes didn t please, decapitation served as the entertainment. This parallels with Montressor s feelings about Fortunato- Montressor was sick of hearing Fortunato s jokes and ridicules and decided to put an end to it. Another way to interpret Fortunato s jester costume is that he is made a fool by his pride. Montressor intended to make a fool of him and, in the end, Fortunato s arrogance and pride in his connoiseurship of wine did him in. He could not fathom anyone else s opinion on a wine being any good, so he had to appraise the wine himself.

Another point of symbolism that isn t seen without research is expressed by Kenneth Silverman in his book Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. Silverman notes that the Montressor motto, Nemo me impune lacessit, is the national motto of Scotland. He thinks that Poe chose this motto not only because of the appropriateness, but because of underlying tenseness- his foster father, John Allan was Scottish. Allan much resembled Fortunato in being a man rich, respected, admired, beloved, interested in wines, and a member of the Masons (Silverman 317). Also, whether it be coincidence or not, we can also see that Allan can be seen as an anagram in Amontillado.

More symbolism is found in the name of the antagonist, Fortunato. Fortunato is and Italian name, derived from fortune or fortunate. This is ironic, firstly, because Fortunato isn t fortunate at all- he is killed. With a deeper look at the story, we see that Fortunato represents fortune, which is the ultimate influence on how good or bad a man s life is. Montressor represents a common man who is unfortunate enough- as most people are. The difference between Montressor and the common men who he may be compared to is that he is able to strike back at the fortune that treats him so badly– fulfilling man s revenge on the fate/fortune that has been so unkind to him. Here we see that the warden has become the imprisoned. After years of placing Montressor behind bars of ridicule, Fortunato had himself become restrained with the very real restraints of revenge that Montressor had placed upon him.

He turned towards me, and looked into the eyes with two filmy orbs that distilled the rheum of intoxication. This quotation from The Cask Of Amontillado connotes two different ideas- about the eyes of Fortunato and about his drunkenness. The eyes of Fortunato were glazed and were dripping grossly, as it sounds. According to Poe, the eyes are the windows to the soul. If this holds true for this story, Fortunato s soul was not very clean or clear. Fortunato s drunkenness ties in with the idea of him representing fortune. If Fortunato is drunk, he s not thinking about what he s doing- how he s insulting Montressor. This shows that fortune is ambiguous. So, there are no rewards based on merit and no punishment based on evil- it s more a case of fortune being indifferent and cruel to man.

You are a man to be missed… This quote from Montressor is one of the first instances and one of the more memorable of foreshadowing in The Cask Of Amontillado. Fortunato follows with a fit of coughing and replies that I shall not die of a cough. True– true, Montressor answers. Since Fortunato is drunk, he doesn t pick up on any of Montressor s subtle verbal irony. When Fortunato proposes a toast, Montressor drinks to Fortunato s long life. The motto of the Montressor family is Nemo me impune lacessit, which means literally No one provokes me with impunity. This implies and foreshadows that Montressor intends to seek vengeance in support of his family motto and no one will be exempt from the wrath of Montressor. Also, Montressor says that he is a mason, but not in the sense that Fortunato is talking about. The Poe Decoder also notes that the last ironic part of the story is Montressor s closing remark: In pace requiescat! This means in Latin rest in peace, but the Decoder says that in pace also refers to a very secure monastic prison.

On the surface, this is a straightforward story of revenge, an eye for an eye, as the bible puts it. Fortunato insults and ridicules Montressor, so Montressor decides to get even. It seems to be a simple tale, but it is powerful and complex. Montressor is getting his enjoyment from knowing that as Fortunato slowly dies, the thought of his rejected opportunities of escape will sting him with unbearable regret, and as he sobers with terror, the final blow will come from the realization that his craving for the wine has led him to his doom. He wants Fortunato to know what s happening to him. At the beginning of this tale, Montressor says that I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong. This means that Montressor not only means to punish Fortunato, but savor it and plan it methodically. The theme could also be interpreted as man s attempt to strike back at his fortune. Montressor is punishing the fortune (Fortunato) which has burdened him for such a long time. This is the ultimate story of a madman s twisted premeditated murder. Montressor tries to justify and rationalize his thoughts and deeds to the readers- he is truly mad. This is a classic case of Poe s unreliable narrator. Like in The Tell-Tale Heart, we cannot trust what the narrator tells us, because there is obviously something wrong with his mind. In reading this story, the reader can think correctly that some sort of retribution from Montressor for Fortunato s insults would be acceptable, Montressor leads us to believe that death- suffocation and premature burial, no less- is the correct route. At the end of the story, a bit of guilt or remorse may be creeping towards Montressor. He says that his heart grew sick, but dismisses it on account of the dampness of the catacombs. The last sentence in this story is In pace requiescat! Is it possible that maybe, instead of this being Montressor s closing remark to Fortunato, it is about Montressor, wishing his guilt and regret away? If this is so, then Montressor didn t truly get his revenge on Fortunato, having to live the rest of his life with the guilt that the death has put upon him.



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