“The Cask of Amontillado” is a frightening and engaging short story focusing on the severe consequences that emerge from persistent insult and cruelty. Poe’s unique use of gothic elements within the story sets an ideal tone for a dark plot of murder to unwind. This story is loaded with various themes and other literary devices that result from Poe’s gothic writing style. Of the numerous themes and literary devices, one that tends to dominate the story is the theme of revenge. This theme is supported by Poe’s refined use of irony, symbolism, and direct and obvious discussion of vengeance. The overall theme of revenge in “The Cask of Amontillado” is an essential aspect of the entire short story.
Helping create a theme, the author utilizes dramatic as well as verbal irony to help prolong the suspense and mystery throughout the story. For instance, when Montressor and Fortunato meet and want to go try to find the pipe of Amontillado, he refers to Fortunato by saying, “My friend, no. It is not the engagement, but the severe cold with which I perceive you are afflicted.”(Poe)” In this statement, the author is showing verbal irony because, clearly Montresor doesn’t care about Fortunato’s well-being, yet he refers to him as a companion. Dramatic irony is implemented at the end of the story when Fortunato says to Montressor,” Will not [Lady Fortunato and the rest] be awaiting us at the palazzo? Let us be gone,”(Poe) and Montresor agrees to him by saying “Yes…let us be gone. (Poe)” The two of them say the same phrase, however, the meaning is contradictive. Fortunato wants to go home to his wife, while Montressor desires him gone forever. The application of dramatic and verbal irony undoubtedly contributes to the shaping of the theme of revenge throughout the story.
As the story evolves, Poe’s use of symbolism and gothic writing phraseology continues to hint the reader towards a theme of revenge. The coat of arms of Montressor’s family is an example of symbolism in this story. Montressor describes it as being “A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.” In this description, the coat of arms can be interpreted as the foot being of Fortunato and the serpent being Montressor. Fortunato had harshly insulted Montressor just like the snake embedding its fangs into the golden heel. In retaliation, Montressor viciously murdered Fortunato, comparable to the golden foot crushing the snake rampantly.
Montressor felt that his family name had been severely disrespected and that Fortunato had wronged him and his family, or we are led to believe this. He says, “I must not only punish, but punish with impunity.” Montresor felt that he must address the wrong done to his family, just like the golden foot in his coat of arms. Therefore, these symbolic statements demonstrate the intense feelings Montresor has for seeking retribution.
Furthermore, the direct and obvious discussion of vengeance is apparent when Montressor says to himself, “I [continue]…to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation. (Poe)” Fortunato did not anticipate anything threatening from his trustworthy partner. However, Montresor’s smile of immolation hints the reader to assume the worst is about to come for Fortunato. “I [Montresor] laid the second tier, and the third tier, and the fourth; and then I heard the furious vibrations of the chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labors and sat down upon the bones.” In these lines, Poe presents the reader with an obvious theme of revenge based on the actions and thoughts going through Montresor’s mind. The audience is convinced that Montresor was seeking revenge because he went out of his way to stop building the wall and listen to Fortunato suffer.
Montresor enjoyed this and was pleased to see Fortunato get what he deserved. Without a doubt, Poe’s open discussions of vengeance and hatred give the short story an overall theme of revenge.