Human Cruelty and Evil in The Cask of Amontillado Novel

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The Evil Inside

“Pay attention…Sometimes it’s the person giving you the medicine who’s making you sick” (Maraboli). Looks are not always what they appear just as Steve Maraboli mentions in the quote above. While you may think a person has your best interest at heart, what is actually on their heart may be quite opposite of that. Authors Edgar Allen Poe, in his short story The Cask of Amontillado, and Shirley Jackson, in The Lottery, both summarize man’s capacity for evil as being limitless and show that evil is present inside all men, no matter how innocent or moral they may appear to be.

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The Cask of Amontillado is an excellent example of not only the limitless bounds of man’s evil but also reflecting the evil within men, though pure their intentions may seem. Though the narrator reveals himself to the reader immediately in the story, he goes to great lengths to fool Fortunato into believing that not only are they friends, but also that he has high regard of his opinion regarding fine wines. Knowing that a “connoisseurship in wine” (Poe 592) is Fortunato’s “weak point” (Poe 592), the narrator uses this knowledge to set his trap. By appealing to Fortunato’s pride and fancy, the narrator lures Fortunato into “insufferably damp” (Poe 593) catacombs “encrusted with nitre” (Poe 593) to sample a cask of Amontillado and prove its validity. In order to allude Fortunato into not becoming suspicious of their journey deeper and deeper into the catacombs, the narrator is diligent about checking on the condition of his friend’s cough and goes so fas as to “implore [him] to return” (Poe 595) as he says Fortunato’s “health is precious” (Poe 593) and “a man to be missed” (Poe 593) should any ill befall him. Montressor’s act is so believable that even after chaining his friend in a small portion of the catacombs, Fortunato was “too much astounded to resist” (Poe 595). He was never aware that Montressor had planned every detail of this ending, from having a “trowel…beneath the folds of [his] roquelaire” (Poe 594) to insuring his attendants would not be home by giving them “explicit orders” (Poe 593) not to leave the house, knowing that they would all immediately disappear. The lengths that Montressor had gone to however, did not stop there. Once he had gotten Fortunato drunk and chained to the wall, he “uncovered a quantity of building stone and mortar” (Poe 595) that he had previously hid “among the pile of bones” (Poe 595) for the sole purpose of bricking Fortunato in and leaving him there unable to escape. Had Fortunato seen the evil that Montressor was capable of, he would have never followed him down to the Amontillado and his death.

Shirley Jackson also does a good job of showing man’s unlimited capacity for evil as well as once again reinforcing the fact that even someone as pure and innocent as a child has a heart tainted by evil. The Lottery begins by describing the villagers of the town gathering on a warm, “clear and sunny” (Jackson 604) “full-summer” (Jackson 604) day. The situation seems completely innocent as children were playing and stuffing their pockets “full of stones” (Jackson 604), men were “speaking of planting and rain” (Jackson 604), and the women “exchanged bits of gossip” (Jackson 604) on what at first seemed like a normal day in any small town. The lottery that was about to be conducted was carried out by the same person who handled the “square dances, the teenage club, [and] the Halloween program” (Jackson 605), a man “who had time and energy to devote to civic activities” (Jackson 605). It was a “tradition” (Jackson 605) that brought the entire town together year after year and since “no one liked to upset” (Jackson 605) as much tradition as even the box that was used represented, it had gone unchanged since the beginning. The sick irony of the tradition however was that instead of drawing for money, the villagers were drawing for death which is where Jackson reveals man’s unlimited capacity of evil. Though the villagers knew every year that one of them, regardless of their age, gender, or place in the community, would draw the black dot and be killed. Instead of breaking tradition and standing up for what was right, the villagers were willing every year to voluntarily draw from the box and then immediately turn on their friend with stones intent upon murder. No villager was innocent or exempt from the evil either regardless of how moral they might have seemed and the stones that the children were gathering in the beginning where the same stones that they would use as weapons in the end.

Evil comes in many shapes and forms and when it appears, it is usually unexpected. There is not one person that evil hasn’t touched in some way and no length that people wouldn’t go to when evil is the motivation. The atrocities that are committed every day, as well as the short stories The Cask of Amontillado and The Lottery, all show us that evil has no limits and will rear its ugly head in whomever it can seduce.

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