Criticism of “The Cask of Amontillado”

Subject: Literature
Type: Critical Analysis Essay
Pages: 6
Word count: 1782
Topics: Bible, Book, Edgar Allan Poe, Symbolism
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“The Cask of Amontillado” is a story that is religious based and is about a rich man called Fortunato. In Latin, Fortunato means to be lucky which can be depicted from the word itself. The story is quite outstanding since it has employed various ordinary literary devices but their unique nature draws a line between “The Cask of Amontillado” and other short stories. Symbolism is one of the devices that cannot be ignored in the story. Symbolism in “The Cask of Amontillado” is brought out by choice of language and characters. The dress worn by Fortunato at the Carnival, the motto of Montresor’s family which denotes they cannot be punished for impunity and the name Fortunato itself are all symbolic. Additionally, one will not fail to note the use of foreshadowing. The device is used to enable the reader to predict the death of Fortunato. The story is full of almost all types of irony. For example, the sentiments Montresor makes before the death of Fortunato is verbal irony. It is worth mentioning religious imagery since it is built by all the mentioned literary devices. Various events in the story have religious overtone that makes the story to be a unique one in its class as evidenced by quotations from the Bible being the Christian reference book.

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“The Cask of Amontillado” is a short story created and written by Edgar Allan Poe, where Montresor is seeking revenge. This Gothic story may make the reader to confuse Montresor as diabolic and calculating. However, Montresor sees revenge as similar to impunity. Therefore, Montresor never explains the reason why Fortunato should be punished. Therefore, the only thing that he states is “Fortunato causes me several injuries upon insult” (Poe 1). Montresor is planning to kill Fortunato in a way that he calls burying alive. Unaware, Fortunato is now a sacrificial lamb waiting to be taken to the slaughter house (Nevi 8). Surprisingly, Montresor is executing everything with a broad smile in front of his alleged victim since he firmly believes that his death will bring him immense gains. It is worth noting that Fortunato, as a character, is a symbol of something looked down upon mostly by Montresor. Fortunato is ironically the mirror self of Montresor (Nevi7).Additionally, the great desire of Montresor burying Fortunato alive represents the psychological portrait of repression. Apart from symbolism and foreshadowing, Poe in this short story has employed irony which together builds religious imagery thereby making the story outstanding and peculiar.

Poe has employed names of characters which seem to point out that Montresor and Fortunato are two characters which share one personality (Gargano 119). For example, Fortunato’s name has a meaning which depicts motives that Montresor has for subjugation. Therefore, from the Montresor’s point of view, the name means fortune. It is evident from the story that Fortunato side of Montresor’s personality desires money and riches. Furthermore, Fortunato is a respected member of the society because of the money he has acquired making depict wealth. However, it is crystal clear that after some time the wealth that Fortunato had acquired made him highly feared by the others and, therefore, he opts to insult God (Gargano 119). Therefore, Montresor is forced to repress Fortunato as a form of defense mechanism, therefore, protecting his very soul from forces of damnation.

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The writer has used irony artistically in the story. An example of irony in the story which cannot be ignored is when Montresor stumbles upon Fortunato and then tells him that he felt fortunate to have met him (Poe 1). The sentiments which are uttered by Montresor can be seen as a type of perfect verbal irony since in the real sense since Montresor has not luckily met Fortunato as he has plotted to kill him (Gargano 119). Dramatic irony is also well employed in the story and it is depicted by the type of attire that Fortunato has put on at the carnival. One can conclude that although Fortunato is dressed, Montresor is the one who is jeered and ridiculed. According to Professor Charles Nevi, a scholar, the irony is present in the story based on the dress that Fortunato is wearing. Nevi states that a jester is not a person that can be laughed at but causes laughter in other people by reminding them of the frailties that humans possess. However, in the story, Fortunato is not aware of anything and does not ridicule anybody with his dress. Therefore, Montresor can be seen as almost playing the role of a jester (Nevi 8). In this case, Nevi means that Montresor has been ridiculed, and therefore, he is the perfect match for the famous jester costume. Notably, the examples show Fortunato is not a lucky man and, therefore, dies in the end.

Furthermore, only a few literary stories can bring out the rare device of foreshadowing. From the title of the story itself, “The Cask of Amontillado”, someone can predict that a character in the story will die in the very end (Gargano 119). Therefore, the word Cask from the title looks almost the same as casket, which is a place specially prepared for somebody to lie after death. Additionally, foreshadowing is evident in the first sentence of the story. Here the narrator begins with Montresor saying that he has suffered several injuries from the insults directed at him by Fortunato (Poe 1). Notably, the sentiments were denoting when Montresor was heading to pick an insult from Fortunato. Another message that the words send is that Montresor was dedicated to ensuring that he avenges for the hurt that Fortunato had caused him. Therefore, the sentiments predict the death of Fortunato since Montresor himself states that he is not ready to take further insults from him.

Imagery makes the story quite peculiar especially religious imagery. The writer, Edgar Allan Poe, a master of macabre, understands the relationship between moral and immoral, and between sacred and blasphemous. The writer successfully goes through the subconscious minds of the readers who have firmly held religious beliefs. In the story, Poe in a witty manner incorporates religion into the bad side of revenge and what comes out is profound and daunting. First, the story is narrated from a side of somebody’s confession which can be a priest (Gargano 119). Additionally, it is prudent to note that the language used is full of implications. The language takes death to serve as revenge for the insults that Montresor and his forefathers endured. All these actions, such as the taking of wine and making the candles to emit some light, depict a segment of Montresor’s shadowy figure. Fortunato, the character who meets death in this story, is now a sacrifice in a ceremony that does not have any element of Christianity.

The language used in the story is carefully selected and is a depiction of sacramental rites common in Christianity. Montresor is confessing that he felt overjoyed when Fortunato reached because of the thought of immolation (Poe 1). Immolation is a religious term that means killing to serve the purpose of a sacrifice and, therefore, denotes a strong religious affiliation (Gargano 119). The tone in Montresor’s language brings him out as someone spearheading divine punishment. What motivates him is something that violates natural rules. “A wrong is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong (Poe 1).”

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Furthermore, the expressions that are used by the writer in the story have religious connotations. For example, just as in the Roman Catholic mass, Montresor speaks some Latin words such as “In pace requiescat!” and “Nemo me impune laces sit” (Poe 2). These mean to rest in peace, and nobody can punish me with impunity, respectively. Additionally, the wine that makes Fortunato trapped by death, Amontillado, which in Latin means from the mountain can be attributed to the trek of Moses up the mountain of Sinai and the laws that God gave to him to guide the children of Israel.

Symbolism has been employed perfectly than in many short stories of its class. The jester that Fortunato was wearing is the commonest symbol in the story. The costume is vividly described as tightly fitting, and the head is covered with a conical shaped cap and chimes. Therefore, Fortunato is dressed like an idiot which portrays who he is perfectly. Additionally, the setting of the story itself is a symbol. It is the great insanity of the carnival season that denotes the extreme madness of the narrator’s mind. The setting of the story makes it interesting and fantastic to the reader. However, the fantastic nature is destroyed by Montresor’s desire to execute revenge which sees the death of Fortunato.

The Montresor’s family motto that you cannot punish me with impunity is symbolic (Poe 1). Therefore, the picture can be associated with the events in the book of Genesis in the bible. It is crystal clear that there is a heel smashing into the head of the serpent as it reaches its fangs into the body of the heel. In fact, this denotes the unfortunate event that befalls Fortunato. Fortunato has tainted Montresor’s sense of pride which is the snake biting the heel (Barban and Elena 54). In retrospect, Montresor kills Fortunato in a way that is described as diabolic which is the heel crushing the head of the serpent (Foy and Lambo 253).

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The writer in “The Cask of Amontillado” uses a wide variety of styles such as irony, symbolism, and foreshadowing that further give rise to religious imagery. Foreshadowing gives the reader a hint that Fortunato is going to die. Additionally, the different types of irony and symbolism help the reader to get into terms with different sections of the story that together can make one to conclude that Fortunato died because of his hurtful tendencies.

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  1. Baraban, Elena V. “The Motive for Murder in “The Cask of Amontillado” By Edgar Allan Poe.” Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, vol. 58, no. 2, 2004, p. 47.
  2. Foy, Roslyn Reso, and William E. Lambo. “Freemasonry, the Brethren, and the Twists of Edgar Allan Poe in The Cask of Amontillado.” The Explicator, vol. 73, no. 4, 2015, pp. 252-256. Informa UK Limited.
  3. Gargano, James W. “” “The Cask of Amontillado””: A Masquerade of Motive and Identity.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 4, no. 2, 1967, p. 119.
  4. Nevi, Charles N. “Irony and ‘“The Cask of Amontillado”’.” The English Journal vol. 56, no. 3, 1967, pp. 461-463. JSTOR. 22 August 2017.
  5. Poe, Edgar A. The Cask of Amontillado. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ed. Laurie G. Kirzner and Stephen R. Mandell. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2007.
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