Irony and Symbolism in “The Cask of Amontillado”
In the short story "The Cask of Amontillado," Edgar Allan Poe writes in first person point of view, from the perspective of Montresor, the narrator of this tale, who seeks revenge against Fortunato. Montresor began to develop the perfect plan for revenge. During the carnival season, Montresor meet with Fortunato and decides to implement his plan carefully not to arouse Fortunato's suspicions through irony. Poe's story describes the inner workings of a murderer's mind, who has lived the memory of Fortunato's death for fifty years. Poe uses different types of irony and symbolism in the conversations between Montresor and Fortunato which are discussed in the following paragraphs.
First, Poe uses dramatic irony in the story. For example, Montresor expresses concern about Fortunato's and says, "Come, I said, with decision, we will go back; 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" (Poe). Both the reader and Montresor know of his plan of murder that awaits Fortunato when he descends into the catacombs in search for the wine. But, Fortunato does not suspect that Montresor is capable of such an act. Montresor pretends to be concerned about Fortunato's health, when he says they should go back. Ironically, Montresor could care less about Fortunato's health; he is concerned about his own advantage of manipulation by luring him into the catacombs to carry out his plan. Montresor wants to be responsible for Fortunato's death. Montresor does not want Fortunato to die of a cough or from the niter in the catacombs, but of his own plan. The drunken Fortunato is the only one in the story who is unaware of Montresor's real motives; which demonstrates situational irony. Another example is when the two men are having a conversation about returning to the carnival. Fortunato insists going to the catacombs with Montresor. Fortunato states, "Enough, he said; the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough" (Poe). Then Montresor says, "True--true, I replied; and, indeed, I had no intention of alarming you unnecessarily--but you should use all proper caution" (Poe). Poe uses this irony: the reader knows of the narrator's intentions but Fortunato does not. Fortunato does not know how true his words are. Fortunato is not going to die of a cough, but due to Montresor's motive.
Secondly, Poe uses numerous examples of verbal irony. For example, when Montresor toasts to Fortunato's long life. Montresor says, "Drink…" (Poe). Then Fortunato says, "I drink, …to the buried that repose around us." Then again, Montresor states, '"And I to your long life"' (Poe). Montresor, however, knows that Fortunato will not live very long. Fortunato believes that Montresor is his friend, when actually he intends to make a fool out of him. Thus, Montresor exclaims, "My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably you are looking today! But I have received a pipe of what passes Amontillado, and I have my doubts" (Poe). Montresor calls Fotunato "dear" when he hates this man. He is dressed as a clown, but Montresor still compliments him on his costume. His attire fits with Montresor's plans- to make a fool out of him. Moreover, Montresor points out, "My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature" (Poe). In this tale of revenge, Poe illustrates a several different ironic situations between Montresor and Fortunato.
Poe also shows many examples of symbolism in this short story. Symbolism is seen in the names of the characters. “Only three names are mentioned in the work, Fortunato, Luchesi, and Montressor, all three of which are suggestive of treasure” (Womack). Fortunato is Italian for “fortunate” while Luchesi is Italian for “lucrative.” Another example of symbolism is the sherry, “The most dry sherry produced by the mountains of Spain contrasts with the dank depths of Fortunato’s tomb” (Womack). The “cask” of amontillado that Montressor tells of, draws Fortunato into the “casket” in which he still lies.
“The Cask of Amontillado”, is not unlike many of Poe’s other short stories in it’s use of the literary elements. Poe is known for his many works implementing dementia, paranoia, and self destruction as his short stories, “William Wilson”, “The Tell-Tale Hearth”, and “The Cask of Amontillado”. “The narrator cannot understand that his assault upon another person derives from his own moral sickness unbalance” (Ward). Also found in many of Poe’s works are characters who hide behind a false identity. “The Cask of Amontillado”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Black Cat”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, and “The Premature Burial” have a deadly saneness only slightly mitigated by a thin veneer of difference, ineffectual to veil their virtual identity (Ward).
Word Count: 815