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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


peace.


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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