"The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe
A short story, written by Edgar Allan Poe in 1846, The Cask of Amontillado is one of the best examples of irony. The author takes readers on a journey into the mind of Montresor, whom many individuals might perceive as a mad person. The Cask of Amontillado illustrates horrible revenge conducted even worse because the vengeance comes without any evident reasons. Edgar Poe depicts revenge via Montresor's thoughts, feelings, and actions. The character’s concrete premeditated plan shows dedication to his actions. While reading the story readers might perceive Montresor as a murderer planning his killings in advance.
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The main character is the narrator of the story. Edgar Poe depicts the first-person viewpoints in order to emphasize the person’s weakness. Moreover, he enhances it by adding layers of confusion and darkness to the narration. The story illustrates an unreliable narrator, who cannot present himself truthfully to the reader. The audience can only conceive a vague and unclear understanding of the protagonist’s purposes. It is obvious that the title of the story The Cask of Amontillado presents the theme of revenge. However, the constant irony in Montresor's narration prevents the readers from understanding the character’s motives and aims.
The hero explains to the unknown readers that he is planning to conduct vengeance in a measured way, without placing himself at risk. Upon the first reading of The Cask of Amontillado, one might consider Montresor as an insane and unreasonable murderer. At the beginning of the story, the author plots complete and perfect revenge for “the thousand injuries” made by Fortunato. “A thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge” (Poe, 1846, p. 1). The first episode shows that Montresor plans revenge, not for his physical injuries, but for the moral insult. The quote points out that the protagonist believes Fortunato knew what he had been doing, but chose to insult and betray him.
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Moreover, Montresor’s pretense of having friendly relations with Fortunato indicates that the narrator has been planning his death in advance. Montresor says to his victim, “My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met” (p. 1). Although the victim understands that Montresor is fond of him from the phrase, the narrator despises Fortunato and is only glad to see him because he can implement his murderous plan. In addition, the author uses the word “luckily” in order to recall the essence of Fortunato's name, which is completely unsuitable for his destiny. Edgar Poe ironically gives his victim the name of Fortunato, which in Italy means “fortunate”.
For implementing his plan, one carnival evening, Montresor finds Fortunato and asks him to try out the recently obtained sherry, and confirm whether it is Amontillado. After Fortunato replies that he is busy and that a man named Luchesi would taste it, Montresor feels that his plan can collapse. He says, “Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry” (p. 1). For this reason, Fortunato agrees, and they both go to Montresor’s vaults.
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In the next episode, Fortunato tastes wine and begins to cough. The narrator insists on bringing him back home, however, he refuses and says, “The cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough” (p. 2). Montresor replies, “True-true” as he definitely knows that for Fortunato the starvation and dehydration in the crypt will become the major reasons of death. Later, Fortunato claims to have forgotten Montresor’s family motto. “Nemo me impune lacessit” meaning “no one attacks me with impunity” (p. 3). The author makes the statement to underline once more that this is the theme, which runs through the short story. In the final episode, Edgar Poe illustrates how both men walk into a crypt, where human bones serve as a decoration for three of the four walls.
The last words of Fortunato were terrified and helpless moans, “For the love of God, Montresor!” (p. 5). Montresor replied, “For the love of God!” (p. 5). The author uses these phrases to underline that the victim has so much time to enjoy his life. The audience also sees the irony in the narrator’s last words, “In pace requiescat”, when Montresor, realizing that Fortunato has passed away, calls the victim’s name repeatedly (p. 5). In his last words “In pace requiescat”, the main character wishes his so-called friend to rest in peace. The readers may interpret such irony in two ways. On one hand, the main character might wish his victim this after such a horrible premeditated killing. On the other hand, Montresor’s “in pace” might have the meaning of being secure and not found, as it has happened for almost fifty years.
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In The Cask of Amontillado, Edgar Allan Poe uses both verbal and dramatic irony with the purpose of highlighting the message of the story. The use of irony also influences the narration’s tone of horror. It is not the first short story where the author uses irony. Other ironical narratives include Tell-tale Heart, The Masque of the Red Death, The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Raven (Biography of Edgar Allan Poe). The Cask of Amontillado uses the irony from the very beginning, starting from the title where the noun Cask, though means wine barrel, is derived from the word casket with the meaning “coffin”. Therefore, by the title, Edgar Poe tells the audience that the narration is about the coffin of Amontillado.
Thus, The Cask of Amontillado, written by Edgar Allan Poe, is an ironical story with the subject of murder. The author illustrates Montresor as a protagonist and a first-person narrator, who is telling his story to a specific audience. His calm and calculating behavior points to the presence of serial killers’ demeanor in the narrator. The writing style of the short story is very original and thoroughly thought out.