Poe’s short story The Cask of Amontillado is one of his most creative works. The work is precise and societally representative. A variety of literary devices are employed to reveal the characters and themes. The story’s setting is peculiar, but it represents Poe’s literary prowess. In reality, the story is told from the viewpoint of a first-person narrator. The Cask of Amontillado’s critical assessment depicts the complex existence of humanity’s mind and actions. The job is driven by the incomprehensible wickedness of the soul, the thirst for vengeance, and the challenge of reconciling facial expression with one’s thoughts (Poe 11). The plot of the short story is flowing and emphatic on the main themes at each stage. However, Poes application of literary tools forms the backbone of interpretation and understanding of the story. The creative use of irony, engaging symbolism and mix of imagery in The Cask of Amontillado blend together to present it as an entertaining and informative story about the complex nature of humanity.
In a short review of the story, Montresor, a vengeful character plots a despicable plan to entomb Fortunato, a wine maker. The narrative is given by Montresor fifty years after the evil act. The development of the story is hinged on the major theme of revenge. It is worth to note that thematic focus of the story is strongly supported by symbolism, imagery and irony.
Symbolism is a key literary tool used in this short story with an overwhelming effect on the composition and message of the narrator (Whalen 98). In the cask of Amontillado almost every object has a symbolic meaning. While Montreso is leading his victim, Fortunato through the vault, they come by the have a talk over the family coat of arm. In the first place, Montresos plan is to revenge against Fortunato whom he claims have been insulting his family. In that case, the instance Fortunato tells Montreso that he cant remember how their family coat of arm looks like, the former consider that statement as a continuation of insult. In a flash of Montresos thoughts, he gives a vivid description of the coat of arm to communicate to the reader. The coat of arm has the picture of a shield which bears another picture of a giant human foot resting on a field azure. The giant foot is crushing the head of a wild crazy serpent. In fact, it is evident that the fangs of the serpent are completely buried in the heel of the giant foot. In a symbolic interpretation, Fortunato is the serpent who has been biting Motreso. In that respect, the giant foot symbolizes Motresos deadly revenge plan, crushing is the impending death of Fortunato.
The motto of the coat of arm states, Nemo me impune lacessit, which translate to, no one attacks me with impunity (Bloom 31). In essence, the coat of arm is an overall symbol of revenge that Motreso family glorifies. The motto and the features of the coat of arm are a match to Montresos evil fantasy that dominates the story. A critical review of the color, Azure which is blue is symbolic of the sky. The sky in turn symbolizes freedom. In the context of this story, the color of the coat of arms symbolizes Montresos imagination of gaining freedom after entombing Fortunato.
As Montreso tactically leads Fortunato to the script, they recall the nobility of freemason. While Fortunato in his drank status expresses his superiority over Montreso in regard to the freemason membership, Montreso brings out a trowel which is symbolic of the group. In explaining different sceneries, the narrator uses such terms as carnival to symbolize a season of rejoicing and partying. Besides, the vault, its quietness is symbolic of the environment of the dead. In fact as the two walks through the vault, Fortunato toasts to the dead relatives of Montreso. Symbolism has played a key role in overall plot development, thematic emphasis and setting of the short story (Griffith 78).
Irony dominates this story and forms the basis of Poes literary approach (Frank, et al.65). From the beginning of the narration, Montreso tells Fortunato, My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met, as an expression of complement and friendship while as the narration unfolds, he means a fate with death to Fortunato. It is equally ironical to note that Fortunato means fortunate, but the tragic end of his life is opposite of that. The narration explains that the revenge mission was planned and executed at the eve of carnival. This is a season of celebration and the timing of Montresos plan is an ironical twist to the reader. The situational irony that characterizes this story are many. In such cases, what is expected turns out opposite when it happens. As the plot of the story indicates, Fortunato is dressed in a jester that symbolizes ultimate joy and happiness. However, this attire is a complete opposite of the tragedy that awaited him in the catacomb. Fortunato is a wine maker and the word used in the story is cask. Instead, the entombing of Fortunato is representative of a casket.
Dramatic irony is also notable in the plot development of this story. In this case, as Montreso guide Fortunato to his death; they pass through the nitre which makes Fortunato cough. In a show of self-belief, Fortunato assures Montreso that the cough cant kill him, and he cant die, while in Montresos mind, Fortunato will ultimately die. Fortunato says, the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I will not die of a cough. Upon which Montreso replies, True-true. A reader of this story at this point is mesmerized at Montresos height of wickedness as he actually harbors the secret of Fortunatos ultimate death despite assurance to his friend.
Verbal irony is widely used in this work. In this case, what Montreso tells Fortunato is always opposite of what he does. When the two are travelling through the catacombs, Fortunato asks Montreso if he is a mason, which means freemasonic membership, Montreso agrees and confirms through the trowel while in actual he is a craftsman who will entomb him with stones and mortar. Montreso also portray spirit of friendship, compassion and care of Fortunato by assuring him that he will take him back safely as his health is precious. However, deep in Montresos mind he is sure Fortunato wont see the daylight again. This aspect explores the depth of hatred Montreso hold against Fortunato. At one point, Montreso toast to Fortunato inside the catacomb claiming thats meant for long life while he is actually toasting Fortunato to death.
Imagery has been employed in this literary work in several instances. In fact the plot of the story is significantly boosted by imagery. As Montreso attend the carnival to lure Fortunato to his death, he puts on a mask of black silk which is an image of biased and uncouth justice. On the other Fortunato put on motley-colored costume or Jester which is representative of a court fool. In fact, this is realized when Montreso easily lure him through reverse psychology into the Catacomb and entomb him. The characters themselves describe the vault as cold and insufferably damp which an image of lonely place likened to death. In reality, the vault is a burial place for Montresos family members and Fortunato eventually joined alive. The dialogue between Montreso and Fortunato explores application of imagery with much emphasis on the dead end of the catacomb (Poe 14). The vault is an image of the shadow of the underworld. Although Fortunato is not aware, the choice of Montresos supposed wine location is a literal image of a fateful end. In fact, as Fortunato finally enter the tomb and make the last effort to free himself, Montreso seal it with stones and mortar as an image of final resting place.
Poe has used other literary tools such as allegory but not to the extent of significant effect on the overall interpretation of the work. The creativity in this story reflects Poes understanding of human behavior and the delicate balance between reality and appearance in interpersonal interaction.
Bloom, Harold. Edgar Allan Poe’s “the Tell-Tale Heart” and Other Stories. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2009. Internet resource.
Frank, Frederick S, Tony Magistrale, and Edgar A. Poe. The Poe Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1997. Internet resource.
Griffith, Kelley. Writing Essays About Literature: A Guide and Style Sheet. Boston, Mass: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Cask Of Amontillado. 1st ed. Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center, 1993. Print.
Whalen, Terence. Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses: The Political Economy of Literature in Antebellum America. Princeton, NJ [u.a.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1999. Print.