Edgar Allan Poe: "The Cask of Amontillado"
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The Cask of Amontillado
Irony, satire, and humor can all be found in the numerous short stories written by, Edgar Allan Poe. One of his stories containing these elements being, "The Cask of Amontillado". Although all of his short stories tell an eerie and uncanny story, they contain brief moments of humorous irony regarding death that make the story enjoyable and somewhat amusing at times; and in some ways, the comical irony in these stories, also expresses the intelligence of the characters in the story. In "The Cask of Amontillado" a man by the name of Montresor, seeks the destruction of his acquaintance, Fortunato, for daring to insult him. He does this by luring him into his family catacombs, in order to taste a cask of wine (i.e. Amontillado), by using reverse psychology. Fortunato, in this story, is drunk, wears a jester's costume—symbolizing his foolish personality—and is somewhat arrogant; Montresor recognizes his egotistical personality and uses it against him. For example, when they meet at the beginning of the story, Montresor informs him about a cask of wine in which he must try; however, Montresor tells him that if he is too busy, a man by the name of Luchesi could taste it instead. This was, in a sense, seen as an insult to Fortunato's expertise in wine tasting. He then refuses to have Luchesi taste the wine—as Montresor knew he would—thereby making him fall into Montresor's trap.
The Irony of a Name and Title
The name of Montresor's victim alone, already displays some irony: his name is Fortunato, which in Italian means, one who is fortunate and lucky. Fortunato, however, is not a fortunate person whatsoever. The reason for this is because he enters Montresor's trap to dispose of him and has no general sense as to what is really happening. A fortunate person is one has good luck, but this is not the case for Fortunato. He is simply ignorant of his grim fate, due to his egotistical (or arrogant) personality and drunken state. One would expect a man with the name of Fortunato to live a happy life, filled with luck. But by experiencing a terrible death, Edgar Allan Poe's character name choice was able to express the fact that he in no way is fortunate; in other words, his name—implying he is lucky—signifies the opposite, which creates a humorous but tragic end to the story. In addition, the title of the story is also somewhat ironic and humorous. The reason for this is because the word cask means a barrel of wine and is derived from the word, casket, which is a synonym for coffin. So, It is ironic because the cask of the wine is figuratively referring to Fortunato's death or grave, rather than a barrel of wine.
A Hierarchy of Intelligence
Throughout, "The Cask of Amontillado", the antagonist Montresor uses his intelligent and devious personality to sway Fortunato into going down to the melancholic Montresor catacombs. He does this by simply complimenting Fortunato of his wealth and class, and showing empathy for his physical state in the story; that is, in the short story, Fortunato becomes affected by the nitre found in the catacombs and he beings to cough; Montresor suggests that they should leave the vaults and send for Lechesi to taste the wine, and in the short story he suggests:
'Come,' I said, with decision, 'we will go back; [Fortunato, your] health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchesi—'. ' Enough,' [Fortunato] said; 'the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.' (6)
By complimenting Fortunato and suggesting that they should leave the vaults, it causes Fortunato to feel insulted (in a sense). He feels as though that no one but him can taste the cask of wine; therefore, since Montresor uses reverse psychology—or uses his egotistic personality against him—he feels insulted and refuses to leave the catacombs. Montresor is then given the power in the situation, as he is able to manipulate Fortunato. This is also somewhat humorous because Montresor is praising Fortunato for his wealth and respect in society; however, at the beginning of the short story, the reader learns that he really has an inner hatred for Fortunato. His compliments are, therefore, ironic, for he does not truly have respect for him; in other words, they indicate the entire opposite and also give hints of his possible death. One would not have thoughts of killing a person who they hate and then compliment them and truly mean it. Montresor is rather lying to Fortunato, by using verbal irony. In addition, Fortunato comments that he will not die from a cough. This is also a bit ironic—that is, dramatic irony—because Fortunato is saying that he will not die, but at the end of the story, he actually does die. The reader understands that Fortunato will die, but he is too ignorant to see that Montresor is actually planning to kill him; creating a humorous and ironic scene in the story.
The Society of Masons
As the two characters move down, deeper into the gloomy Montresor catacombs, Fortunato states that Montresor is not of the masons. The masons he is referring to, however, is different than what Montresor believes he is saying. In this part of the short story, Montresor becomes baffled by how quickly Fortunato drank a flagon of wine he gave him, and to his surprise, he replies:
'You do not comprehend?' [Fortunato] said. 'Not I,' [I, Montresor] replied. 'Then you are not of the brotherhood.' 'How?' 'You are not of the masons.' 'Yes, yes,' I said; 'yes, yes.' 'You? Impossible! A mason?' 'A mason,' I replied. 'A sign,' he said. 'It is this,' I answered, producing a trowel from beneath the folds of my roquelaire. (7)
In this part of the short story, Fortunato is referring to an actual brotherhood of masons or a Masonic order; however, Montresor, is, in a sense, an actual mason (i.e. he has a trowel, which is the tool used by a mason); after the dialogue between these two characters, Montresor pulls out a trowel, which is a reference to the bricklayers. This is also a sign of foreshadowing indicating the death of Fortunato because it is the tool he uses to trap and kill Fortunato. In addition, by being "apart of" the brotherhood of masons, Montresor is able to gain Fortunato's trust and thereby put his guard down. This, therefore, has an ironic meaning because he is not literally a mason. Until, he uses the trowel to bury Fortunato alive, then does he become a mason, thereby expressing the irony in this situation.
A Bitter Ending
At the end of, "The Cask of Amontillado", the antagonist, Montresor, finally leaves Fortunato to die in the Montresor catacombs. As he leaves his, "...heart grew sick—on account of the dampness of the catacombs" (10). At first glance, one may believe that Montresor has empathy for Fortunato and feels sorrow after his death; however, this is not the case. Rather than feeling sad after his death, he rather feels sorrow because of the dampness in a room! This creates a humorous scene in the story, for one would think that a person would become sorrowful after the death of a friend (or at least feel some regret); however, Montresor's malevolent personality takes over his empathetic feelings, thereby causing him to feel sad about the weather, rather than the death of his old 'friend". This humorous irony is seen throughout almost all of Edgar Allan Poe's works, creating not only sinister stories, but also comical and enjoyable tales.
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1. Poe, Edgar Allan, The Cask of Amontillado. Philadelphia, United States of America: Godey's Magazines and Lady's Books, November 1864.
2. http://www.enotes.com/homework-help/why-does-montresor-say-that-he-mason-287321. Jessica Gardner. July 6, 2012