“The Cask of Amontillado” written by Edgar Allan Poe is a short story about the person buried alive. Though reader knows nothing about the background of this crime, about life of the main characters, even about the motives of such a terrible murder, he comes to his own conclusion regarding a number of details written in the narrative. Revenge and horror are the main themes of “The Cask of Amontillado”. In this research I will try to explain the motives of the crime, give an interpretation of several hidden ideas, and reveal author’s techniques that make the reader foreshadow some events of the plot.
The horror of “The Cask of Amontillado,” as in lots of Poe’s stories, exists in the lack of evidence that accompanies Montresor’s assertion to Fortunato’s “thousand injuries” and “insult.” However, the narrator in his turn states that his desire is to “not only punish, but punish with impunity” (Poe’s Short Stories). According to T.O. Mabbott, “Poe most likely had long considered a narrative of this kind” where, as is usually the case in real life, a bad character does not feel disgrace or simply meet punishment. He knew exactly the audience’s wants and desires. From this perceptive most critics use to explain the genre of the story. Luc Herman in his Handbook of Narrative Analysis suggests that there is a certain possibility of cross bonds in the text. Therefore, the narrator can address someone outside of the story (Herman 82). Additional search of the background may show that there was so called “bitter quarrel” in 1846 between Edgar Allan Poe and “the cohorts of the vengeful Mrs. Ellet led by Thomas Dunn English and Hiram Fuller”, with “The Cask of Amontillado” being “the working out of [Poe’s] immediate emotions.” (Slobodan Sucur) This event could somehow form the plot line of “The Cask of Amontillado” showing Poe’s attitude towards his “competitor” in real life.
K. Silverman in New Essays On Poe’s Major Tales also supports this idea. “Seen against the background of the war of the literati, the narrator Montresor (Poe) gets back at his enemy Fortunato (Thomas Dun English) for a recent insult, using their mutual friend Luchesi (Fuller) as a foil in this scheme”. Such suggestion explains the events described in the story.
An author gives audience an opportunity to foreshadow the tragic end of the story. Starting from the beginning of the narrative Edgar Poe gives several tips and, thus, creates suspicion. For instance, Montresor is caught red-handed when claiming that he is a member of the Masonic order (Poe 18). Another hint can be seen when Fortunato says, “I shall not die of a cough”. Attentive reader can notice the terrible answer of Montresor. He says only one word “True”. There is no doubt that the man knows exactly what will happen in a couple of minutes. Even appearance of the main heroes draws allusions. Fortunato is dressed in a motley-colored costume of the court fool. The whole scene of the crime shows the reader that he is literally and practically fooled by Montresor.
There are several scenes in the text that are unclear. Though the reader has absolutely no idea about the factors that influenced Montresor’s idea to kill Fortunado, one can be sure that they were logical. Even the act of unlawful secret murder itself states that something terrible happened in the past. Still the background of the crime is never explained. Moreover, the way the story ends is also contradictory. Main hero screams, tries to escape but does not ask why Montreror fooled him. “Occurring at midnight, an hour viewed as unfavorable or unlucky in Masonic symbolism and traditionally associated with ending, the conversation ends in silence” (McFarland Pennell 60). One can hardly understand the reasons for Fortunato’s being quiet at the end; perhaps his willing negation to reply Montresor’s words is a type of somewhat strange victory in otherwise calamitous conditions or maybe he simply had a heart attack. There is another possible explanation of the events described at the end of “The Cask of Amontillado”. Fortunato could think it was a terrible game as he was drunk. Only after the wall was build he could understand than the game was over. There was no sense in shouting as he was underground.