Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado is not only an appalling story, but one that turned my head within the first few sentences. It revolves around Montresor, the antagonist who grows infatuated with the insults his fellow colleague, Fortunato has laid upon him. Montresor took matter into his own hands. Distracting Fortunato with the thought of a fine wine that nobody but him could taste, as well as intoxicating him, gave Montresor the upper hand as his vengefulness arose from within. Death crept upon Fortunato as Montresor unrepentfully built a wall around his friend, leading him to his demise. From the subtle hints that foreshadowed the murder of Fortunato, to the gruesome process by which the killing was done, there was nothing more but for me to choose a favorite character. As any reader should know, characterization adds depth and purpose to any short story.
Poe’s narrator, Montresor, did nothing but draw me in and makes me want to dissect the reading. Ultimately, I was fascinated by Montresor largely due to Poe’s characterization of him and his vengeful, manipulative, and grotesque mind. Poe’s emphasis on Montresor’s vengefulness is prevalent throughout a majority of the story. This characterization trait that Poe implied can be observed within the first paragraph. Montresor states, “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge” (Poe 250). Montresor, considering he is a friend to Fortunato, had jumped to the conclusion of murdering his colleague without hesitation. Not only did this reveal the true character of Montresor, it is later stated that he would wait “at any length” (Poe 250) to get his revenge, as well as “punish with impunity” (250). Though hesitating when building the wall around Fortunato, Montresor trekked on with his mission to murder his colleague. As it is believed that Fortunato insulted Montresor’s family crest, his true vengeful nature is fully relieved as Poe uses Montresors belief of punishment with impunity to give him a subtle, but deadly character trait. “Nemo me impune lacessit” (252), which means, “No one insults me with impunity,” is stated by Montresor only justifying the vengefulness that arises from him for Fortunato.
Not only did Poe draw me in as a reader to wonder why Montresor was unremorseful, but also tied in a manipulative nature that caused me to grow more fond of Montresor. The manipulative side to Montresor was executed by Poe in a manner that I took as being doubtful. I would later realize through the text that Montresor’s doubt was subconsciously turned into manipulation through Poe’s choice of word, as well as characterization of him. Montresor took into consideration the downfall of Fortunato, which was his inflated ego about his skill in wine. Though vengeful, Montresor took precaution into making sure that the language, as well as the attitude he had towards Fortunato seemed passive. There are several areas in the story where Poe uses these subtle, yet powerful characterization traits to give Montresor that dumbfound, sly personality. Using Fortuantos ego against him, Montresor states that he has acquired a pipe of Amontillado for which he would have Luchresi, another fine wine advocate, taste. Fortuanto, being the egotistical character he is, could not bare the fact of Luchresi taste such a wine. Poe characterized Fortunato in a way that caused him to believe he was the only one to acquire a taste of this fine wine, which would eventually lead him to his gruesome death at the hands of Montresor. As the story progresses, Montresor later uses the nitre that lined the cask walls against his advantage. Montresor states to Fortunato, “Come … we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy…” (252). Poe showed Montresors grief towards Fortunato through his use of positive language, as well as manipulative manner which fed into Fortunato’s own ego. Poe did not only characterize Montresor in a way where he seemed innocent, but also in a way that showed his true inner demon.
While having vengeful and manipulative character traits, Poe also incorporated a grotesque side to Montresor that would cause him to dehumanize Fortuanto, and ultimately lead to his death. Grotesque, as defined by google definitions, means “comically or repulsively ugly or gross“. Poe characterize Montresor to have this comically type of nature to him. As Montresor had chained up Fortuano to the wall of the cask, he recalls “A succession of loud and shrill screams, bursting suddenly from the throat of the chained form, seemed to thrust me violently back….I placed my hand upon the solid fabric of the catacombs, and felt satisfied. I reapproached the wall; I replied to the yells of him who clamoured. I re-echoed — I aided — I surpassed them in volume and in strength…” (254). Montresor’s distorted perception of “normal” was shown through as he oddly touched the walls of the catacombs to come at ease with his wrong doings to Fortunato, as well as his own twisted needs.
Even though Poe blended in each characteristic of Montresor into a gruesome, vengeful human being, he incorporated a small moment of doubt where Montresor indirectly begged for Fortuanos apology; “‘For the love of God, Montresor!’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘for the love of God.’ But to these words I hearkened in vain for a reply” (255). Through several uses of characterization, Poe not only caused Montresor to be a character of such despise, and manipulativeness, but also a character who also unveiled a pinprick of pity for his wrong doings. The ending of a short story is what is deemed to be the most rewarding. Though Montresor succeeded in killing his fellow colleague and protagonist, Fortunato, I still am draw to Poe’s use of characterization through both protagonist and antagonist.
Poe’s work has habitually been on the darker side, and through each story he seems to capture me, and draw me into each and every reading. The Cask of Amontillado has been a short story that has made me appreciate the way authors characterize each antagonist and protagonist. Understanding why each character acts the way they do causes a short story to become an immeasurable fantasy.
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