Themes of “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe Character Analysis

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Edgar Allen Poe is known for his mastery of Gothic writing in grotesque, yet fascinating tales. “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe is a classic example of how verbal, situational, and dramatic irony can greatly influence the theme of a literary work. It tells the story of a nobleman referred to as Montresor who brutally takes revenge on a rich friend named Fortunato who, he believes, has insulted him. Montresor lures Fortunato into the catacombs of his ancestral home, gradually intoxicates him, and leaves him chained behind an underground brick wall where his remains will remain for decades. Irony helps to establish the theme of how foolishness and pride can cause disastrous results by creating instances of ignorance that led to great failure. Poe combines elements of verbal, dramatic, and situational irony to use Fortunato as an example of the horrendous outcome of foolishness and pride. By using irony, he creates a dark, creepy atmosphere throughout the short story.

Poe begins the short story with verbal irony to foreshadow the actions of Montresor, the narrator, and his plot to kill Fortunato. When Montresor first meets Fortunato during Carnival season, he tells Fortunato, “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” Montresor acts very amicable toward Fortunato in order to hide his malice. He calls Fortunato “dear” when he really hates him. This is a clear expression of verbal irony because Fortunato is unaware of how Montresor’s friendly attitude is a mask for his devious intentions. When Fortunato and Montresor are both walking in the dark catacombs of the Montresor estate on page four, Fortunato says, “‘the cough’s a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.’” The narrator, Montresor, replies to Fortunato’s statement by saying, “‘True –true’”.

Based on what is already known about Montresor, the reader already knows that Montresor intends to kill Fortunato. Little does Fortunato know that Montresor’s deceit would kill him. Fortunato’s inability to grasp the meaning of Montresor’s reply contributes to the theme of how foolishness can cause disastrous results because his ignorance of Montresor’s statement is contributing to his death. If Fortunato had even suspected that Montresor had noxious intentions, he could have had a higher chance of surviving. Finally, when the characters toasted to the dead ancestors of the Montresor family on page six, Fortunato “said, ‘to the buried that repose around us’” to which Montresor replied, “‘And I to your long life.’” Montresor’s statement also displays verbal irony because he is seemingly wishing Fortunato to live a long life when it is known that Fortunato’s life will be cut short by the end of this story. The meaning of each ironic statement shows how unaware Fortunato is of his coming death. The first two lines of the short story and Montresor’s toast make it clear that Fortunato will be killed by Montresor. However, Fortunato’s remark that he won’t be hurt by a cough show readers that he is grandly unaware of his coming death.

Dramatic irony is intentionally used by Poe to give readers more information about the characters and their future actions. He also uses it to drive the theme of how foolishness causes terrible consequences by showing how Fortunato’s thoughtless decisions led to his demise at the hands of Montresor. It is known that Fortunato will die at the end of the story because Montresor begins the story with “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.” This statement immediately informs readers that the short story will be about how the narrator, Montresor, got his revenge on Fortunato. Due to what is known about Poe and his stories, it can also be inferred that the victim, Fortunato, will meet death at one point in the short story. As Fortunato blindly approaches his macabre death, the dramatic irony foreshadows how he will die.

The title, “The Cask of Amontillado,” is the first clue of dramatic irony in the short story. Although the word cask means “a barrel-shaped vessel for holding fluids such as water or wine,” it also has a double meaning similar to the word casket, which means “a box or chest for carrying a corpse.” This immediately tells readers that the story has to do with wine and death. On page four, the text reads: “The man [Fortunato] wore motley [clown outfit]. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells.” In this statement, Fortunato’s literal appearance as a clown symbolizes his true nature as a prideful fool. It is shown later on that he is a fool because he doesn’t recognize Montresor’s contempt for him on pages four and six. On page seven, Fortunato asked, “You? Impossible! A mason [a member of a secret fraternity known as the Freemasons]?” to Montresor. Montresor replied to Fortunato by “producing from beneath the folds of my [his] roquelaire a trowel” and stating that he is a mason who builds walls. Montresor’s answer to Fortunato’s question displays dramatic irony because it shows Montresor is an actual mason instead of a secret member of the Freemasons.

The revelation of Montresor’s trowel foreshadows to readers that Fortunato will be walled up by Montresor in a closed chamber. Despite the dubiousness of Montresor having a trowel for no reason, Fortunato continues to follow him through the catacombs. Just as verbal irony foreshadowed Fortunato’s death in the interactions between the characters, dramatic irony gives a clearer picture of how Fortunato’s pride and foolishness will make him walk to his own grave.
Poe uses situational irony to inform readers about the true nature of the characters and their actions. Fortunato’s name also makes his character ironic. His name means “good fortune.” However, the audience knows he is really unfortunate as he doesn’t realize the jeopardy of his situation until it is too late. The second to last paragraph states, “I [Montresor] replied to the yells of him [Fortunato] who clamored [panicking greatly]”. Fortunato has clearly been imprisoned by Montresor and is panicking after realizing what trouble he’s gotten into. Earlier on that same paragraph, Montresor stated “‘Let us be gone’”.

Although this literally means that Montresor and Fortunato should be leaving the catacombs, the confinement of Fortunato by Montresor shows that the statement really means that Fortunato will be left for dead. The situational irony of the evidence from page nine further reinforces evidence of Fortunato’s demise being used as an example of the theme, which is how foolishness has disastrous results. Fortunato reaches his demise because he constantly misses the hints of Montresor’s intentions. One of the main reasons he misses these hints is because he is too prideful. His pride makes him believe that he is better than others. He believes that he is well-respected by others. Since he is supposedly respected, he thinks that many will respect him. By being too prideful, Fortunato doesn’t realize that others don’t think of him as elite. As a result, he cannot grasp the possibility that someone like Montresor would ever try to kill him.

Irony helps to establish the theme of how foolishness can cause disastrous results by creating instances of ignorance causing great failure. Poe combines elements of verbal, dramatic, and situational irony to use Fortunato as an example of the horrendous outcome of foolishness and pride. During Montresor’s and Fortunato’s conversation in the catacombs, verbal irony is used by both characters to foreshadow the consequences of Fortunato’s unfortunate incognizance. Verbal irony foreshadows the ending of the short story. Dramatic irony is shown throughout the actions of the characters to display their true nature. Situational irony shows readers how both characters will be affected by their actions at the end of the plot. With this in mind, “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe is a tale of revenge that uses irony to teach its audience the dangerous consequences of foolishness and pride.


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Themes of “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe Character Analysis. (2020, Sep 20). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/themes-of-the-cask-of-amontillado-by-edgar-allen-poe/

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