An Example of a Moral Dilemma in The Cask of Amontillado

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A common phenomenon that is shared amongst a large number of the texts that are on the course syllabus is that the protagonist, or one of the supporting characters, has more often than not faced a moral dilemma in which their actions and choices caused negative consequences. In The Cask of Amontillado, by Edgar Allen Poe; The metamorphosis, written by Franz Kafka; Punishment, by Rabindranath Tagore; The Diary of a Madman, by Lu Xun; the short story The Guest, written by Albert Camus; and The Garden of Forking Paths, by Jorge Luis Borges, at least one character is faced with a moral dilemma. In most of these stories the moral dilemma comes in the form of betrayal.

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In the first story that I have mentioned, The Cask of Amontillado, the moral dilemma that the protagonist faces is betrayal. In The Cask of Amontillado the protagonist who is also the narrator of the story, Montresor, uses duplicitous methods to enact revenge against Fortunato. Montresor alleges that Fortunato had wronged him stating “I learned that he had laughed at my proud name, Montresor, the name of an old and honored family” and faced a moral dilemma where he could have ignored Fortunato or chosen revenge, the latter of which he decided upon. Montresor decided that in order to get his revenge that he would lure an already drunk Fortunato into his cellars with the promise of a fine wine called Amontillado. Throughout the story Montresor leads Fortunato to the cellars and leaves him trapped in there to die. While Montresor did not seem to hesitate in enacting his revenge at the end of the story it is hinted that he suffered for what he did when he thought “I heard only a soft, low sound, a half-cry of fear. My heart grew sick; it must have been the cold” showing that, while he was in denial, he must have felt some guilt. In the moral dilemma that Montresor faced, by choosing the choice that would cause harm to someone else, Montresor was hurt.

Another story that shares the common phenomenon of a moral dilemma of which the actions caused negative consequences, is in Franz Kafkas’s The Metamorphosis. In The Metamorphosis, the main character, Gregor Samsa, transforms into a giant insect. The main moral dilemma in this story is not faced by the protagonist, but by his family. Before Gregor was an insect he was a man who worked hard at a job he didn’t like in order to provide for his family, however, once Grego became an insect his family faced the moral dilemma of how to treat Gregor.

After Gregor’s metamorphosis his family began to treat him in a very negative manner which ultimately resulted in Gregor’s death. While their treatment of Gregor eventually led to the negative consequence of Gregor’s death, their actions seemed to have the opposite effect upon themselves expressed in the ending when “Herr and Frau Samsa struck almost as one while observing their daughter… she had recently blossomed into a beautiful, voluptuous girl… it seemed to them almost a confirmation of their new dreams and good intentions when their daughter swiftly sprang to her feet”. Gregor also faces a change in morality, which may be the consequence of his metamorphosis and him becoming less human, when “It scarcely surprised him that he had become so inconsiderate of the others; earlier on, his considerateness had been a source of pride”. It may be possible that Gregor’s metamorphosis may symbolise him becoming a less moral person, which means that Gregor’s lessening morality is what ultimately led to his death.

Another story within the course work which featured morality as a common phenomenon is the short story Punishment. In Rabindranath Tagore’s Punishment two brothers, Chidam and Dukhiram Rui, return home and find that their wives have not provided dinner for them. The eldest wife, Radha, sarcastically asked “Where is there food? Did you give me anything to cook> Must I earn money myself to buy it”(642) in response which caused Dukhiram to shove a knife into her head in anger. The first moral dilemma in this story may be that the two brothers did not fulfill their commitment to their wives by providing them with a means of making food, which ultimately led to the negative consequence of Dukhiram killing the wife in anger. The second moral dilemma and negative action would then be the killing of the wife.

The brothers are once again shown to fail when coming to the next moral dilemma when they lie to Ramlochlan Chakravarti, an important figure, that it was the youngest wife, Chandara, who committed the murder of the eldest wife. This moral failing led to Chandara being tried in the death of her sister-in-law. Chandara, who is perhaps unhappy with her husband as suggested at the end of the stroy when Chandara is told that her husband would like to see her and she responds “To hell with him”, does not try to clear her name, and instead confesses to the murder and allows herself to be executed. Ultimately, similar to the consequences of the Metamorphosis, the moral failings of the other characters causes the death of Chandara.

An example of a moral dilemma is once again shown in The Diary of a Madman. In this story, the writer of the journal, a younger brother, is shown to be going mad. He believes that the people in his village are cannibals who plan to eventually eat him. Based on the author and the story’s historical context it can be assumed that in this story the cannibals are an allegory for followers of a corrupt regime. The idea that this story is commenting on followers of a corrupt regime is when, in the introduction before the framed story, the narrator states that the older brother “appraised me that it had been his younger brother who had suffered the dire illness. By now… he had already repaired to other parts to await a substantive official appointment”(1030), which hints that this story is about the moral failings of people who become indifferent to harmful regimes.

The fact that the moral dilemma is becoming indifferent and subsequently supportive of a corrupt regime is near the end of the story. Throughout the story the younger brother had believed that cannibalism was wrong and tried to sway others from the act of cannibalism. All of the other characters thought he was crazy and acted against him by putting him in a cell, which is often what happens to people who speak out against injustice. The author of the story was trying to state that moral indifference and complacency in the face of a moral dilemma is what allows injustice to continue by having the younger brother gives up on speaking out against cannibalism once he realizes that it has been happening for many years and leaves the problem to be solved by the younger generation by stating “maybe there are some children around who still haven’t eaten human flesh. Save the children…”. While the younger brother’s moral failings helped save him it is likely that his complacency caused harm to others. 

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