Edgar Allen Poe



To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality. That it has frequently, very frequently, so fallen will scarcely be denied by those who think. The boundaries that divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins? Edgar Allan Poe often uses the motif of premature or concealed burials in his literary works. One such story is “The Cask of Amontillado.” The story begins around dusk, one evening during the carnival season (similar to the Mardi Gras festival in New Orleans) in an unnamed European city. The location quickly changes from the lighthearted activities associated with such a festival to the damp, dark catacombs under Montressor\'s palazzo, which helps to establish the sinister atmosphere of the story. Although several characters are mentioned in this story, the true focus lies upon Montresor, the diabolical narrator of this tale of horror, who pledges revenge upon Fortunato for an insult. When the two meet during the carnival season, there is a warm greeting with excessive shaking of hands, which Montresor attributes to the fact that Fortunato had been drinking. Montresor also appears to be "happy" to see Fortunato since he is planning to murder him. Fortunato\'s clown or jester\'s costume appears to be appropriate not only for the carnival season but also for the fact that Montresor intends to make a "fool" out of him. Poe writes this story from the perspective of Montresor who vows revenge against Fortunato in an effort to support his time-honored family motto: "Nemo me impune lacessit" or "No one assails me with impunity." (No one can attack me without being punished.) Poe does not intend for the reader to sympathize with Montresor because Fortunato has wronged him, but rather to judge him. Telling the story from Montresor\'s point of view intensifies the effect of moral shock and horror. Once again, the reader is invited (as was the case in "The Tell-Tale Heart") to delve into the inner workings of a sinister mind.
Poe\'s story is a case of premeditated murder. The reader becomes quickly aware of the fact that Montresor is not a reliable narrator, and that he has a tendency to hold grudges and exaggerate terribly, as he refers to the "thousand injuries" that he has suffered at the hands of Fortunato. "...But when Fortunato ventured upon insult, Montresor could stand no more, and vowed revenge." Montresor tries to convince the reader that his intentions are honorable in an effort to uphold his family motto. "Nemo me impune lacessit" is also the national motto of Scotland. Kenneth Silverman, in his book Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance, makes reference to the fact that it is not an accident or similarity that Poe chooses this particular motto. It is one that would remind Poe of another Scotsman, John Allan, his foster father. Allan, "much resembled Fortunato in being a man \'rich, respected, admired, beloved,\' interested in wines, and a member of the Masons." Silverman continues by saying that even the Allan name can be seen as an anagram in Amontillado. (Silverman 317) Stuart and Susan Levine, editors of The Short Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe: An Annotated Edition, does not view Poe\'s story as just a clever tale of revenge, but instead, see it as an anti-aristocratic commentary. "Resentment against aristocratic \'privilege\' of all kinds reached a peak in Jacksonian and post-Jacksonian America.... Poe’s tale is related to innumerable articles in American magazines of the period about the scandalous goings-on of continental nobility." (Levine 454, 455) "The Cask of Amontillado" is a carefully crafted story so that every detail contributes to "a certain unique or single effect." Irony, both dramatic and verbal, plays an important role in this process. Dramatic irony (the reader perceives something that a character in the story does not) occurs when the reader becomes painfully aware of what will become of Fortunato even though the character continues his descent into the catacombs in pursuit of the Amontillado. Poe further adds to this effect by calling the character Fortunato (who is anything but fortunate), and