It is no secret that Edgar Allan Poe is an iconic representative of the Gothic literature genre. His works are important and exciting not only for researchers in the field of literary criticism but also for amateur readers. It is necessary to understand why his work has earned popularity and universal respect for the literary community, thereby becoming a classic. To achieve this research goal, an analysis of the literary elements and techniques that the author used is needed. The Cask of Amontillado was chosen as the object of literary study in this analytical essay because it vividly represents the basic literary, narrative, and philosophical techniques of the writer. The purpose of this paper is to analyze and analytically explore the theme and fictional elements of Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, namely its setting, symbolism, and point of view, and their interconnections between each other.
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Contribution of Fictional Elements to the Theme
The central theme of The Cask of Amontillado
The key theme of Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado is masquerading. The two characters’ meeting takes place during the carnival, Montresor, a mask of black silk, and Fortunato appear before the reader in a motley costume (Poe 3-5). They both also wear metaphorical masks of friendly behavior so that the protagonist can commit an act of revenge, and the victim to get and drink the desired Amontillado wine. This ambiance is enhanced by literary elements and techniques that will be described and analyzed below.
Setting and theme of masquerade in The Cask of Amontillado
In the work itself, the author does not indicate a specific frame date for the events. However, it can be assumed that the action takes place during the Renaissance or the eighteenth century in Italy (Cutitariu 203). Such conclusions are made on the basis of Italian surnames and the presence of a palazzo. Various carnivals and masquerades often took place during this historical period. Researchers note that “thus, originally, “carnival” means “meat removal” (carnelevamen in Latin, Carnevale in Italian) and is celebrated just before the beginning of Lent” (Cutitariu 203). The passage through the palazzo and the descent into the tomb symbolizes Montresor’s perspective and the gradual but irreversible execution of his dream of revenge. Fortunato is described as a respected and even feared person, which may speak of his considerable financial condition, which corresponds to the image of the golden foot on the coat of arms of Montresor (Poe 3-6). Therefore, the reader understands that the serpent is Montresor himself.
Carnival clothing of both figures, which is given a brief but specific description, also plays an important role. Through them, the author conveys and contrasts the mood and true nature of the characters. Fortunato is presented as a man dressed in a jester outfit, and during the novel, he behaves like a naive and even silly clown (Poe 3). According to Geczy, “it is the mask that allows for disclosure of some measure of truth” (20). As already noted above, Montresor wears a black mask, which not only conveys his intentions but also portends the future outcome of events (Poe 5). Edgar Allan Poe adheres to the framework of the carnival theme both in terms of internal- and meta-narrative. This fictional technique also enhances the symbolism and point of view of both characters.
Symbolism and theme of masquerade in The Cask of Amontillado
The reader sees the central symbolic elements in the work of Edgar Allan Poe. They are the clan coat of arms and motto of the Montresor family. The clan coat of arms is described as a gold foot that crushes the snake, while the serpent bites the heel in response (Poe 6). The family motto “nemo me impune lacessit” may be interpreted as “no one provokes me with impunity,” which perfectly resonates with the impunity punishment philosophical statement in the first paragraph (Poe 3-6). Therefore, not only the reader but also Montresor associates himself with the snake. The climax is a snakebite during which Montresor removes his well-wisher mask, and Fortunato becomes sober after drunkenness. It is also important to note that coats of arms played a significant role in European societies of the Early Modern Period.
It is no secret that this work is filled with Christian symbolism and philosophy. Various researchers also point to a component of Christian ethics and aesthetics when discussing whether Montresor is Mephistopheles or divine punishment for the Fortunato’s sins (Saxton 137). The Montresor family coat of arms and motto that were described above hint at this most of all. This fictional element refers the reader to the image of St. George; it means that the author once again shows that Montresor is the embodiment of the devil. Therefore, it can be concluded that the descent into the family catacombs symbolizes the descent into hell. Once again, symbolism correlates with the setting of the Renaissance, since those times are also associated with the rebirth of Christianity. An example of this is Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy that was written during that period. The masquerade theme element is also observed since the ending can be interpreted as that Montresor is the real St. George, who punishes Fortunato for the sin of gluttony.
Another important element of symbolism in The Cask of Amontillado is Montresor’s trowel. This trowel is a symbol of such a literary technique as Chekhov’s gun. It was initially mentioned in a comedic tone when Montresor wants to gain greater trust from Fortunato, claiming that he is also a member of the brotherhood of masons (Poe 7). As it later turns out, this tool becomes the primary weapon of the murder of a member of a secret community (Poe 9). It is worth noting that the Montresor trowel looks authentic both in the setting of the family tomb and in the perspective of Fortunato, for whom Montresor seems like a harmless friend. The trowel also correlates with the theme of the masquerade as the protagonist presents it as a symbol of involvement in the brotherhood, although its real purpose is completely different. The trowel may also be interpreted as a possible spoiler from the author to the ending of the work.
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Point of view and theme of masquerade in The Cask of Amontillado
Montresor’s point of view is directly related to the masquerade theme. The protagonist pretends to be a well-wisher for Fortunato; therefore, he wears a metaphorical mask to achieve malicious purposes (Poe 4). The reader can also draw parallels with the lack of people in the palazzo and the ambiance of death in the crypt and Montresor’s focus on Fortunato and the obsession with killing him. Montresor also consciously associates himself with a snake from the family coat of arms, as his thoughts at the very introduction of the plot and the clan motto.
In The Cask of Amontillado, the author comments on the perspective of Montresor through the image of Fortunato. To be more precise, this comment is of satirical nature. Edgar Allan Poe makes fun of Montresor’s serious intentions and thirst for revenge on the example of the drunken Fortunato. Fortunato’s desire to get Amontillado is equivalent to the willingness of the protagonist to commit the murder of a man he hates. Consequently, Fortunato is represented as the doppelganger of Montresor (Kennedy and Peeples 236). The author equalizes two principal characters in the eyes of the reader, which, in a sense, depersonalizes them until the ending of The Cask of Amontillado. It also reinforces the general theme of the masquerade during which the mystery of the person is respected until the very end.
This paper analyzes the work of Edgar Allan Poe, namely The Cask of Amontillado, in terms of such fictional elements as setting, symbolism, and point of view. During analytical research on the central theme of the work, it was found that it is a masquerade. Such conclusions are drawn from setting elements such as Italy of the Renaissance or the eighteenth-century period. In addition, there were analyzed such aspects of symbolism as the clan coat of arms and motto of the Montresor family, Christian imagery, and protagonist trowel. The perspective of narration on behalf of Montresor was also considered. It is safe to say that literary techniques do not conflict with each other but complement a key topic of The Cask of Amontillado. For greater objectivity of this work, the points of view of various literary critics and researchers were given.
Cutitariu, Codrin Liviu. “The Art of Dissimulation. The Good Christian vs. the Loyal Freemason.” Philologica Jassyensia, vol. 13, no. 26, 2017, pp. 203-209.
Geczy, Adam. “The Psychology of Cosplay.” Journal of Asia-Pacific Pop Culture, vol. 1, no. 1, 2016, pp. 18-36.
Kennedy, J. Gerald, and Scott Peeples, editors. The Oxford Handbook of Edgar Allen Poe. Oxford University Press, 2019.
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Cask of Amontillado. 1846.
Saxton, Audrey. “The Devil’s in the Details.” Criterion: A Journal of Literary Criticism, vol. 10, no. 1, 2017, pp. 137-145.