Monday, May 16, 2011

Irony and Foreshadowing in “The Cask of Amontillado”

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“The Cask of Amontillado” is one of Poes best-known tales of horror. It is

primarily about pride and revenge. The Cask of Amontillado is a pretty

straightforward story of crime and guilt, of conscience and suffering, and of a

man who cannot repent for his sin; a man who enjoyed killing his victim, and

Custom Essays on Irony and Foreshadowing in “The Cask of Amontillado”

enjoys reliving the memory. The story begins with the main character,

Montressor, presumably old and on his death bed, attempting a confession to a

nameless priest. Yet, as he begins to tell his story, in great detail, we sense that

there is no contrition or sorrow for the crime, and thus there will be no

forgiveness. The crime the main character committed was the murder of an

acquaintance who wounded only his pride.

In the story, the narrator states that he has been insulted by an

acquaintance by the name of Fortunato, and he seeks revenge. He wants to do

so in a measured way, without any risk to himself, and indeed hatches just such

a plan to exact his retribution. Montressor decides to use Fortunatos fondness

for Italian wine against him.

During the carnival season, the narrator approaches Fortunato, telling him

that he has acquired something that could pass for Amontillado (a light Spanish

sherry). He tells Fortunato that since he was not around, a man named Luchesi

tasted it. Fortunato is apparently competitive with Luchesi and claims that this

man could not tell Amontillado from Sherry. Fortunato is anxious to taste the

wine and to determine for Montressor whether it is Amontillado or not. Fortunato

insists that they go to the narrators vaults.

When the two men arrive at the narrators house, no servants are around.

They descend into the vaults, which are very damp and full of nitre, which makes

Fortunato cough. The narrator keeps offering to bring Fortunato back home, but

Fortunato refuses. The men go deep into the long vaults, which are full of the

dead bodies of the Montressor family.

At one point in their journey, Fortunato makes a movement that is a secret

sign of the Masons, an exclusive, fraternity-like organization. Montressor does

not recognize this hand signal, but claims that he is a Mason. When Fortunato

asks for proof, Montressor shows him his trowel. (The implication is that

Montressor is a stonemason.) Fortunato says that he must be jesting and the two

men continue onward.

They walk into a crypt, where human bones decorate three of the four

walls (the bones from the fourth having been thrown down on the ground). On

the exposed wall is a small recess, where Montressor tells Fortunato that the

Amontillado is being stored. Fortunato starts to try to move a stone blocking the

recess. Montressor chains Fortunato to the stone. Then, taunting Fortunato with

an offer to leave, Montressor begins to wall up the entrance to this small crypt,

leaving Fortunato inside. Fortunato screams as Montressor builds layer upon

layer of the wall. Just as Montressor is about to finish, Fortunato laughs as if

Montressor were playing a joke on him, but Montressor is not joking. Finally,

Fortunato stops answering Montressor, who claims that his heart feels sick

because of the dampness of the catacombs. He fits the last stone into place and

plasters the wall closed. He repositions the bones on the wall. For fifty years, he

writes, no one has disturbed them. The final line is Latin for May he rest in


The two most important literary elements within this story are Poe’s use of

irony and foreshadowing. The ironic twists make the remain interesting from start

to finish, and the foreshadowing creates a wonderfully effective atmosphere of

suspense and tension. The combination of these elements leads to a conclusion

that is at once brilliant and fulfilling, carefully tying together each strand of Poe’s

expert storytelling in a neat package of gothic horror.

Irony plays a huge part in the telling of this story, and in the effect is has

upon its audience. This irony is very evident throughout the story, but particularly

in the unusual form of revenge played out by the narrator, and the implications of

success -- and which characters ultimately attained it -- after the whole story is

played out.

The mode of revenge in this story is interesting. Montressor avenges

himself by fooling his victim into literally walking into his own grave. Fortunato

pursues the cask which ends up being his own casket. Montressor even asks

Fortunato repeatedly whether he would like to turn back. With this method, he

takes Fortunato completely by surprise and makes his death ironic. After all,

Fortunato is the one eager to get to the end of the catacombs.

Another instance of irony is Montressors statement to his friend that they

should return because his health is precious. This bit of conversation is ironic

because Montressor does not really want to protect Fortunatos health, but

indeed to kill him.

It is also ironic in that Fortunato falls prey to Montressors plans because

he is so proud of his connoisseurship of wine, and it is for the sake of his own

pride that Montressor takes revenge on Fortunato.

To build suspense in The Cask of Amontillado, Poe uses a great deal of

foreshadowing. First, when Fortunato says, I shall not die of a cough,

Montressor replies, True, because he knows that Fortunato will in fact die from

dehydration and starvation in the crypt.

Then, Montressors description of his familys arms also acts as

foreshadowing. The shield is A huge human foot dor, in a field azure; the foot

crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel. In this

image, the foot represents Montressor and the serpent Fortunato. Although

Fortunato has hurt Montressor with insults, Montressor will ultimately crush him.

But the question remains to be seen whether that is the extent of the damage

being depicted in this coat of arms.

A key feature to focus in on Montressors coat of arms is that it is a

circular argument. It depicts a giant foot crushing a serpent that bites the foot.

Either way, both things die. The foot is bitten by the snake, presumably a

poisonous reptile, and dies. The snake is crushed to death by the foot. And thats

the point Montressor loses no matter what he does. And though he takes great

pride in his coat of arms, he never really understands it. The Montressors are

doomed. In fact, the setting of the catacomb is rather ingenious, because that is

the burial place for all the other Montressors, all of them now dead. He is the last

of his clan, and now he will go down. Snake or foot? It doesnt matter. They will

both die.

Another instance of foreshadowing comes with the trowel scene.

Fortunato asks whether Montressor is a member of the Masonic order, but

Montressor replies with a visual pun. When he declares that he is a mason, he

means that he is a stone mason--that is, that he will be building things out of

stones and mortar namely Fortunatos grave.

What is perhaps unnatural is that Fortunato denies Montressor the

pleasure of hearing him scream and beg. He grows silent, and only the jangle of

the chain is heard at the end. It isnt clear, but its quite possible that Fortunato

dies (of a heart attack or something like that) before he has any chance to really

suffer by starving to death in the ghastly tomb. After all of Montressors clever

plans, Fortunato dies!

Yet, nature wins out. Fortunato becomes the fortunate one in the sense

that he may well get to Heaven, while Montressor is really the one who will be

buried alive in the darkness -- the darkness of Hell. Montressor is unable to

repent. He enjoys telling his story to his Confessor. And the amount of detail in

the story reveals this fact. Symbolically, Montressor buries himself alive in the

catacombs. The fortunate one escapes punishment. Montressor is cheated by

his crime. He never gets the ultimate satisfaction of glorying in Fortunatos

sufferings, because Fortunato never suffers. Only Montressor suffers, by the

very fact of being cheated in the end. And now, because he cannot repent, he

will suffer eternally.

Evidence of this is shown when Montressor has almost finished bricking

up the crevice and he is overcome by a sudden fear, and he places his hand on

the wall, to feel something solid, in order to get back his senses. Its almost as if

he gets a glimpse of eternity, of Hell, for a moment, and he becomes fearful that

there may indeed be a spiritual side after all. Montressor seems to go into his

crime without any religious faith.

Yet, we know he is confessing this crime on his deathbed, so it seems

that somewhere along the line he begins to have doubts. He may even come to

believe in God and the afterlife. And still, he will lose any chance of a possible

Heaven because he cant feel sorry for what he did. A clue to understanding this

is found in that moment where he touches the wall. This is the only time during

the murder that Montressor actually displays fear.

However, I think the remainder of his life has been lived in fear. He only

comes to face his fear -- and his true self -- when he balances his fear of going

to Hell against his joy of killing Fortunato, the scale tips towards the joy. And that

will be Montressors undoing; that is what Cask of Amontillado is all about.

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