There has never been any doubt or disagreement about the fact that Edgar Allen Poe is a master of the short story form. His painstaking word selection, his attention to every detail, his obsession over creating a single powerful effect—these qualities have all justifiably contributed to this reputation. Nowhere is his craftsmanship, or his expert use of irony as a unifying element, more apparent than in his short masterpiece, “The Cask of Amontillado.”
Unity in theme, plot, and structure are all elements that were impeccably incorporated in The Cask of Amontillado. In the first sentence we are given the singular and simple theme: Montresor’s revenge. The plot of the story revolves tightly around the execution of his betrayal and retribution against Fortunado. And ultimately, all of these elements are sewn together and given their final meaning through the pervasive use of irony.
There are two categories of irony in The Cask of Amontillado, the ironies that Montresor manipulates and controls in the story, and the ironies that the author creates. As the story progresses we come to realize that, though Montresor is the main voice in the story, Poe subtly provides clues that bring us closer to understanding the truth behind Montresor’s words.
The first obvious irony is the fact that Montresor made sure that his servants would be gone by ordering them to stay. The use of reverse psychology is rampant throughout the story and demonstrates how perverted and backwards all of the relationships in the story have become. Because Montresor is the narrator, we are aware of the duplicity between what he is thinking, versus what he says: “Come, we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as I once was.” Montresor is obviously biting his tongue as he says these words, but does so amiably. He also drops a subtle hint (“as I once was”) about his true feelings of humiliation that are at the root of his...
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"The Cask of Amontillado" is a story of revenge, but the reader is never told exactly what Fortunato did to warrant such vengeance. In fact, throughout the story, the reader gradually realizes that Montresor is an unreliable narrator; that whatever insult Montresor believes Fortunato committed is probably imagined or exaggerated. It's certain that Fortunato has no idea of Montresor's anger, and this makes the story even more tragic and frightening. The seemingly happy jangling of the bells on the top of Fortunato's cap become more and more sad the deeper the two venture into the catacombs.
In the beginning of the story, Montresor defines revenge. He says he must "punish with impunity." He states if the avenger is caught, or does not make the punishment known to he who committed the wrong, the wrong goes unavenged.
With this in mind, he sets the trap for Fortunato. He gives Fortunato numerous opportunities to back out, using the tricks of classic conmen by playing on Fortunato's greed and pride. In fact, it is Fortunato who insists they carry on to find the Amontillado, and this will no doubt torture him as he is buried alive. Montresor also provides hints as to what he plans to do with Fortunato. He seemingly miraculously comes up with a cask of Amontillado during carnival, which Fortunato can scarcely believe. He tells Fortunato, "You are a man to be missed," and after Fortunato says he won't die of a cough, Montresor agrees. His family motto is "No one insults me with impunity" and he is carrying a trowel. Yet Fortunato suspects nothing, and is so shocked when Montresor chains him to the wall, he doesn't even try to fight.
The structure of the story places the events 50 years in the past. Montresor, perhaps on his own deathbed, is telling someone, perhaps a priest, the story, but not with any remorse. He still believes Fortunato wronged him, and at the end eerily says "In pace requiescat," or "May he rest in peace."