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Edgar Allan Poe’s use of symbolism and irony throughout the Cask of Amontillado makes the short story worthy of analysis. Poe utilizes these devices to create this cruel and powerful classic. The Cask of Amontillado is a horror short story that revolves around revenge and pride. There are two men in the plot: Montresor, an Italian aristocrat seeking revenge, and Fortunato, a proud man that brags about his wine expertise and who walks to his death. The definition of irony is words or events present a reality different from what is expected. The use of this device in the story adds humor and cleverness making the piece more refined.
The continuous use of irony is seen in Poe’s style, tone, and exaggeration of Montresor. We notice irony appear in the story from the beginning. The name Fortunato would suggest a man of good fortune, but the reality is that he is about to face the end of his road. The setting even has an ironic element.
The characters meet at the Carnival of Venice. The carnival is supposed to be a time of celebration. However, in the story, it is a time for vengeance and death. The atmosphere changes when the two characters leave the fun of the carnival for the musky catacombs beneath Montresor’s palazzo. Montresor says that when he first meets Fortunato, has been drinking and is dressed like a jester. Fortunato’s costume might suggest that he will be the one playing the fool.
On the other hand, Montresor is wearing a black cloak and has his face covered by a black mask. The black mask and outfit might symbolize Death or the devil. This may be foreshadowing the events that take place later in the catacombs. There is a clear presence of irony once the two go down into the catacombs. Montresor realizes that Fortunato has a harsh cold when they meet but makes a point of him looking very well. Montresor acts natural and friendly towards Fortunato, and even compliments his knowledge of wine.
Montresor starts manipulating Fortunato as soon as they meet. Montresor says that he needs Fortunato’s assistance to find out if the wine he purchased was Amontillado. Montresor then says that he will go to Luchresi since Fortunato is busy celebrating the carnival. Fortunato’s pride forces him to go with Montresor to the vaults, where the Amontillado is kept, to prove he is superior to Luchresi.
During their adventure into the catacombs, Montresor even gives Fortunato the chance to go back since Fortunato feels sick and the vault is filthy. The narrator (Montresor) seems to know that Fortunato is stubborn and is sure that Fortunato’s pride would not let him back down. So, Fortunato continues his journey to death on his own will. “The vaults are insufferably damp. They are encrusted with a note.”
“Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado!”. This is a memorable line in the story by Montresor. Fortunato responds saying, “I will not die of a cough”. Montresor then says, “True – true”. Also, the deceptive narrator toasts to Fortunato’s long life knowing the plan he had to take Fortunato’s life. More proof of ironic elements is found with Montresor as a Mason.
We assume this means he is a member of a group of men, but he is a stonemason whose job is to prepare and use stone for building. Montresor uses his skill as a mason to build up the wall that will trap Fortunato inside the niche. While Fortunato is trapped behind the wall, Montresor copies and yells louder than Fortunato to sympathize with him. It seems as though he is being ironic since he is pleased by what has done and only stops yelling when Fortunato goes silent. The story ends with Montresor’s words “In pace requiescat! (May he rest in peace)”. This line is undeniably sarcastic considering Montresor was the murderer and then dares to pray for Fortunato to rest in peace.
The story also has many examples of symbolism. These examples of symbolism are not apparent to the reader, therefore they are classified as reinforcing. The symbols start to become apparent after reading the story multiple times. The first example in the story was that Montresor’s costume is black, this would suggest that he would be playing the role of someone that is evil. The Montresor’s family crest may be the best example of symbolism and foreshadowing in the story: “A huge human foot door, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are embedded in the heel”. In the image, the foot symbolizes Montresor and the serpent symbolizes Fortunato.
Fortunato wronged Montresor and offended him and his ancestors. Although Fortunato hurt Montresor, the family crest suggests that Montresor will crush him. Montresor is determined to uphold his family’s motto: Nemo me immune la cesspit. The Latin translation is: No one can injure me with impunity. The narrator seeks his revenge to support this principle. Another example of symbolism is that the vaults at the end of the catacombs are piled with skeletons. The build-up of human remains may be an indication of human detriment. The dark and dampness that surrounds the characters are sensory images that help the reader visualize the set of horror and coming of tragedy.
Finally, the title of the story: The Cask of Amontillado, represents the inevitable death of Fortunato. Fortunato’s quest for the cask will end up being his own casket. The Cask of Amontillado is a carefully constructed short story. Poe’s imagination and creativity showed through this eerie tale. Every example of irony and symbolism Poe used contributed to an important effect: conducting his message in an original manner and not allowing the reader to stop.
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