Literature plays a vital role in using narratology to communicate social issues through different lenses and thematic concerns. The Cask of Amontillado by Allan Poe shows how the author’s choice of characters and circumstances have more profound implications than the literal meanings. The interaction between Montresor and Fortunato during the carnival is vital in exemplifying the capacity of special occasions to present excellent opportunities for manipulative behavior. The context of the carnival season is used to demonstrate how manipulation, vengeance, betrayal, and irony combine to bring about the play’s main theme-death.
Manipulation is a technique applied mainly to trick, extort or defraud someone. Notably, for individuals to manipulate others, they must be aware of their weaknesses and exploit them appropriately. Montresor exhibits a remarkable ability to comprehend his adversary’s psychological condition and intentions in The Cask of Amontillado. Montresor takes advantage of Fortunato’s delight in his wine knowledge to entice him into the vault. After hooking Fortunato with the lure of an Amontillado, Montresor proceeds to influence Fortunato with reverse psychology as they travel deeper into the catacomb. Büyükkarcı (2021) argues that Fortunato’s greed and his rivalry with Luchresi give Montresor a perfect opportunity to undertake his mission. According to Person (2019), the entire tale of revenge is shaped and enabled by Montresor’s high manipulative skills. Reverse psychology came in handy in this context, whereby Montresor played with Fortunato’s mind and feelings to ensure he followed suit to the trap with minimal resistance.
Montresor insists on the two men turning back because of Fortunato’s health on many occasions. When they first see the nitre’s “white web-work,” Fortunato pauses, and Montresor says, “Come… we’ll go back; your health is valuable” (Poe, 2008, p.84). Naturally, when Fortunato hears Luchresi’s name, he decides to ignore his friend’s warning and continue. This is a weakness that Montresor notes and utilizes to his advantage. Montresor then employs reverse psychology as he urges Fortunato to revert, saying, “Besides, there is Luchresi” (Poe, 2008, p. 84). However, Fortunato is preoccupied with the amontillado, and possibly with maintaining his own pride. Montresor succeeds in dragging Fortunato deeper into the trap of his revenge mission every time he pushes him to retreat for his health’s sake. Analyzing the context, Axelrod-Sokolov (2018) uses the term madness to indicate the extent to which Fortunato’s foolishness helped Montresor to fulfill his mission. Essentially, manipulative schemes sponsored by greed and rivalry were used to lure Fortunato to his death trap.
Revenge forms a core theme in Poe’s story, wherein Montresor craftily plans to punish Fortunato for the many times he had wronged him. In a story told from Montresor’s perspective, Poe shows that the context of the carnival was an opportune moment to not only avenge but also conceal the entire act. Montresor makes known his pain and plans through the statement, “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge” (Poe 2008, p. 82). At this point, the reader understands the foundation of Montresor’s vengeance-pain borne over many years. Critically, analyzing Montresor’s words reveals that although the wrongs were done to him many years ago, he had taken them in silence, waiting to pay them back. Saxton (2017) applies Christian mythology to show that vengeance, being an ungodly act, needed a dark moment for its execution. Therefore, the carnival was, for Montresor, a loophole through which he could execute his evil schemes.
The setting of the carnival gives a hint to the pending death, establishing the mood following Montresor’s schemes. Poe records that “it was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival” (Poe, 2008, p. 81). Naturally, dusk represents a time between light and darkness, which in this case could symbolize the impending shift from freedom to confinement and death. Büyükkarcı (2021) alludes that the physical space representing the carnival is so constructed that it shows the sharp contrast between the enjoyment upstairs and the darkness beneath, where Montresor executes his plan. In Poe’s story, the carnival takes place above the vaults owned by the Montresors. In this case, it can be concluded that the positioning of the celebration is to present pleasure before torture. As the two move from the carnival into the vaults, they experience a drastic shift from freedom until they reach Montresor’s desired point, with neither light nor air.
In addition to the physical setting, Poe shows how Montresor’s psychological condition is applied within the context of the carnival to exercise revenge. As Montresor leads Fortunato deeper into the vaults, he explains the meaning of his family’s symbol of the foot that crushes a serpent. According to Montresor, the image symbolized the family’s zero tolerance for impunity (Poe, 2008). At this point, the reader understands Montresor’s plan, but the drunk Fortunato seems not to grasp the implication of the symbol. Using Axelrod-Sokolov’s (2018) analysis, it can be shown that since Fortunato had taken away Montresor’s joy before, the latter planned to repay him during the most adored festival-the carnival. When they get to their location, Montresor binds him to the wall, builds a tomb surrounding him out of bricks, and abandons him there to die. Evidently, Montresor’s vengeance would not have succeeded without the carnival covering his malicious schemes and enabling him to release his pain most cruelly, having sent the workers away.
Betrayal is often encountered among close friends and acquaintances who, for one reason or the other, decide to hurt each other’s confidence, resulting in deep wounds. In Poe’s story, betrayal is shown to extend both ways. At first, Montresor describes how Fortunato had wounded him without giving sufficient details to substantiate his pain. However, judging from the desire for revenge, one can tell that Fortunato must have betrayed Montresor in a grave way. Since Montresor was willing to avenge after many years of pain, one can allude that Fortunato had been foolish enough to assume that his misdeeds would just go away. Elhefnawy (2018) presents Fortunato’s personality as unwise, to the extent that he is unable to fathom the trap set for him. Montresor encounters Fortunato during the carnival and presents himself as a caring, respectful friend, greeting him, “my dear Fortunato, you are luckily met” (Poe, 2008, p.82). From this point on, everything Montresor does is contrary to his friendship status.
At the beginning of their encounter, Montresor underscores the warm welcome he received from Fortunato, who was enjoying the carnival. In his words, “he accosted me with excessive warmth,” showing that Fortunato had no ill intentions and that he was entirely open for his friend (Poe, 2008, p. 82). Ironically, the words excessive warmth imply that Montresor did not consider Fortunato a friend anymore since he found an opportunity to avenge himself and his family. According to Axelrod-Sokolov (2018), Montresor took advantage of Fortunato’s dressing to cover his actions. This in itself depicts the deep level to which Montresor was willing to betray his friend. Looking at it from the context of the carnival, it is evident that Montresor understood how important and valued the festival was to Fortunato and used it to his advantage. The promise of an Amontillado in the middle of the carnival was an irresistible urge giving Montresor the perfect moment for betrayal.
Poe advanced his story through an excellent application of ironic words, circumstances, and character names. First, the carnival’s purpose and implication are ironic in vies with Fortunato’s fate. From the beginning, Montresor described the carnival as a festival to which everyone looked in expectancy and a moment of great enjoyment. In this case, carnival implied a predator-prey relationship in which Montresor acted as the carnival, in this case, preying on Fortunato’s folly to avenge himself. The “madness” of the carnival can be related to Axelrod-Sokolov’s (2018) view of the madness of revenge shown through Montresor’s actions. Therefore, the carnival is used ironically to advance the story’s themes.
The carnival involved drinking and merry-making, in which Fortunato had taken several casks of wine. However, the cask of amontillado was used ironically to signify not the bottle of wine but the casket. When Montresor presents the news of the amontillado to Fortunato, the latter cannot contain his delight, imagining the best wine during the best festival. He exclaims, “Amontillado! I have my doubts… and I must satisfy them!” (Poe, 2008, P. 82). In the quest to satisfy his doubts, Fortunato foolishly leads himself to the vaults, quenching Montresor’s thirst for vengeance. In the end, Fortunato actually satisfied his doubts by realizing that there was no amontillado and the only cask there was entailed his burial. Therefore, the carnival was a perfect moment in which to present the cask, albeit ironically.
Fortune is often associated with favor and a happy life. Fortunato’s name would be expected to signify a good life, wisdom, and protection. However, he is the most unlucky character following his death at the hands of the vengeful Montresor. First, he is unfortunate in failing to discern his friend’s motives, following him foolishly to his death trap. Second, he fails to obtain mercy from his captor towards the end of the story. On the contrary, Montresor ironically tells Fortunato, “let us be gone,” implying their return to the Palazzo, knowing well enough that he had bound him to death (Poe, 2008, p. 85). In summary, from Fortunato’s drinking habits, his dressing, and rivalry with Luchresi, Poe shows how he falls victim to Montresor’s plot, depicting his unfortunate life circumstances.
In conclusion, The Cask of Amontillado is well crafted to demonstrate how the carnival set the scene for Montresor’s plan that culminated in Fortunato’s death. Taking advantage of the highly-valued event, Montresor lured his friend with the promise of a rare drink, leading him to the catacombs where he buried him. Montresor was vengeful, highly manipulative, and ironic as he betrayed Fortunato. In all circumstances, the carnival presented the opportune moment paving the way for the victim’s murder.
Axelrod-Sokolov, M. (2018). Madness in fiction: Literary essays from Poe to Fowles. Palgrave Macmillan.
Büyükkarcı, O. (2021). Is it the door through death what scares us? An analysis of The cask of amontillado between semiotics and narratology interface. Journal of Narrative and Language, 9(16), 34-56. Web.
Elhefnawy, N. (2018). Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The cask of amontillado.’ The Explicator, 76(2), 103-105.
Person, L. S. (2019). Outing the perverse: Poe’s false confessionals. In J. G. Kennedy & S. Peeples (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of Edgar Allan Poe (pp. 252-268). Oxford UP.
Poe, E. A. (2008). The cask of Amontillado. The Creative Company.
Saxton, A. (2017). The devil’s in the details: A characterization of Montresor in Poe’s ‘The cask of amontillado.’ Criterion: A Journal of Literary Criticism, 10(1), 137-145.