It is Edgar Allan Poe’s intense use of symbolism and irony throughout “The Cask of Amontillado” that establishes the short story as a candidate worthy of analysis. The skillful use of these devices are utilized by the author to create this horrific and suspenseful short story. Irony and symbolism in “The Cask of Amontillado” greatly effect the outcome of Fortunato’s well being. “The Cask of Amontillado” should be regarded as a slice of a horror story, which revolves around the theme of revenge and pride” (Levine 90). “Poe’s story is a case of premeditated murder.
The reader becomes quickly aware of the fact that Montressor is not a reliable narrator, and that he has a tendency to hold grudges and exaggerate terribly, as he refers to the thousand of injuries that he has suffered at the hands of Fortunato” (Womack NP). The story relates a horrible revenge made even more horrible by the fact that the vengeance is being taken when no real offense had been given. Montressor is “one who will stop at nothing to get the revenge that he deems himself and his family worthy of, and another who’s pride will ultimately be the catalyst for his death” (Benton 215).
Irony is a manner of expression through which words or events convey a reality different from and even opposite to appearance or expectation” (Juvante NP). The use of such devices in this story provides it with humor and wit, and makes the piece more interesting to read. The sustained irony is detected through style, tone, and the clear use of exaggeration of Montressor. From the very beginning, we notice the use of irony in the story. The very name Fortunato would clearly imply that this is a man of good fortune, when the actual case is that he is about to suffer a most untimely demise: the end of his own life.
The setting in which the story takes place again shows an ironic element. It is during Venice’s Carnival that the characters meet. “Carnival is supposed to be a time of celebration and happiness for everybody. However, it is a time for revenge and death” (Taylor 67). The way the narrator treats his enemy is one of the clearest examples of ironic elements. When the characters meet, Montressor realizes that Fortunato is afflicted with a severe cold; nevertheless he makes a point of him looking, remarkably well.
Montressor acts in the natural and friendly way toward the object of his revenge, and even praises his friend’s knowledge on the subject of wines. Further evidence of ironic components is found with Montressor being a mason. We anticipate this means he is a member of a high-class group of men, yet he actually is a stone craftsman, someone whose job it is to prepare and use the stone for building. Montressor makes his trade as a mason useful to build up the wall that will lock the unfortunate Fortunato inside the niche.
When Fortunato is trapped behind the wall his avenger built, Montressor re-echoes and even surpasses Fortunato’s yelling, apparently to sympathize with his victim. He is evidently being ironic since he is actually delighted by what he has done and “gloats over the details of his victim’s sufferings” (Levine 90). The story ends with Montressor’s words ” In pace requiescat! ” (May he rest in peace) (Poe 177). His words are unmistakably sarcastic: if he is a performer of a dreadful murder, then how could Montressor pray for Fortunato to rest in peace? The story also contains many accounts of symbolism.
They can be classified as reinforcing; that is, their meaning is not apparent to the reader. We learn from the narrator that when he first meets Fortunato, the latter has apparently been drinking and is dressed in many colors, resembling a jester. His costume suggests that he will be the one playing the role of the fool. On the other hand, Montressor is dressed in a black colored cloak and his face is covered with a black mask. At this point one can mention the presence of symbols: the black mask and outfit might be a representation of death or the devil. Such figure foreshadows the events taking place later that night in the catacombs.
The coat of arms of Montressor’s family is perhaps the best example of symbolism and foreshadowing in the whole story: ” A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure: the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the hill” (Poe 175). It is clear that a metaphor has been constructed. In this image, the foot is symbolic of Montressor and the serpent is symbolic of Fortunato. Fortunato has wronged Montressor and had offended both him and his ancestors. Although Fortunato has hurt Montressor, the coat of arms suggests that Montressor will ultimately crush him.
Montressor is determined to uphold his family’s motto: ” Nemo me impune lacessit”, which is Latin for ” No one can injure me with impunity” (Poe 175). Montressor seeks his vengeance in support of this principle. A further example of symbolism is the vaults in the end of the catacombs piled with skeletons. The build up of human remains may be an insight of human destroyment. The absence of light and the dark murkiness that surrounds the characters are images that aides for the perfect setting of horror and makes the reader capable of getting the sensation of a horrorific doom.
Finally, the very title of the story: “The Cask of Amontillado” represents the ruins of Fortunato: his pursuit of the cask will in the end be his own casket. “The Cask of Amontillado” is a carefully crafted short story. In this story, Poe uses the themes of irony and symbolism to convey his message in a creative and original way. “As it can be seen, Poe used no single word in vain and all the devices present in this story are not by chance. They all serve the main purpose; making the readers not only see, but participate in the events” (Johnson 42).