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Burton 1 Shelley Burton Professor Camargo English 2100 21 March 2013 Symbolism in The Cask of Amontillado Edgar Allan

Poes The Cask of Amontillado employs the use of several devices, including setting, characterization, dialogue, and conflict to represent the motif that ultimately reveals the storys dark theme. The story is told through the sinister mind of Montresor, a man betrayed one too many times by his nemesis, Fortunato. Montresor leads an inebriated Fortunato deep into the catacombs beneath his house where he plans to trap and brutalize him. Fortunato, an overly confident connoisseur of fine wines, is easily lured into Montresors trap under the pretense that he will be able to drink the Amontillado. Montresor is recalling the details of this gruesome crime fifty years after the event took place. The imagery used in characterization and setting are woven together to develop the storys theme of vengeance through degradation and torture. The first setting introduced in the story is the carnival, which symbolizes the madness of Montresors mind and the hysteria of the plot to follow. Montresor notes that he encounters Fortunato one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season (Poe, 674). After this meeting, Montresor lures Fortunato to his home to partake in the expensive Amontillado. The majority of the story, however, takes place in the ominous catacombs beneath Montresors home. This setting symbolizes the darkness of Montresors mind and the ploy he has concocted to destroy Fortunato. As the men wander about the Montresor family tombs, the narrator describes their passage through walls of piled bones, with casks and puncheons intermingling

Burton 2 into the inmost recesses of the catacombs (676). It is fitting that the story takes place in the dark catacombs, as they will ultimately become Fortunatos tomb, as well. The characters themselves are also symbolic in constructing the storys theme. Fortunatos self-righteousness and ignorance paired with Montresors wicked cleverness are the essential opposing forces in the story. Even Fortunatos ridiculous attire is a reflection of his stupidity; this of course is just the way that Montresor views him. The narrator describes his appearance by saying: He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells (674). Basically, he is foolishly dressed in the typical carnival apparel of the time. In contrast, Montresor is described as wearing a black silk cloak. This clothing aids in constructing the dark, threatening image of Montresor. In order for Montresor to execute his plan, he must first persuade Fortunato to follow him down into the catacombs. Understanding the mind and ego of his opponent makes this a relatively simple task for Montresor. Because of Fortunatos love for wine, Montresor is easily able to get him drunk and lure him into the trap he has set. Ironically, Fortunato prides himself on his distinguished pallet for fine wines. Fortunato is deceived and trapped because of his drunken foolishness, the exact opposite of everything he believes himself to be. These two characters actually serve as foils for one another. Montresor is menacing, conniving, and very disturbed. Fortunato, however, is completely trusting and unthreatening. Their complete opposite demeanors set the stage for conflict as the theme begins to unfold. The dialogue throughout the story aids in revealing the storys theme, as well. Montresor delivers many clever lines throughout their journey within the catacombs that foreshadow the ultimate result of their trek, but Fortunato is too inebriated and self-assured to notice these hints. Montresor lures Fortunato into his trap by gratifying his ego, and Fortunato, believing himself to

Burton 3 be invincible, accepts. Montresor entices him by saying: As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If any one has a critical turn, it is he (674). Fortunato, not to be outdone, replies: Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry! (674). This exchange leads to their journey into the catacombs, under the false pretense of tasting Montresors Amontillado. Throughout the story, several conversations such as this one take place. Montresor continually offers Fortunato an excuse to opt out, but Fortunato cannot stand the thought of anyone other than himself experiencing the taste of this expensive wine. Every line of dialogue exchanged between Montresor and Fortunato in the catacombs serves as a tool to foreshadow the storys plot. When Fortunato presumes to think that Montresor is not of the brotherhood of the masons, Montresor corrects him, pulling a trowel from underneath his cloak. This conversation indicates the inhumane treatment Fortunato is about to suffer at the hands of Montresor, as he will soon build a brick wall to trap Fortunato forever. The most important piece of dialogue used in constructing the theme is when Fortunato inquires about the motto of the Montresor family. Montresor simply answers: No one wounds me with impunity (675). The conflict building between the two characters is essential to the theme of The Cask of Amontillado. From the first sentence of the story, the stage is set for constructing the theme: The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge (673). The story is told from Montresors perspective, thus revealing the despicable thoughts he holds toward Fortunato. As Montresor states in the beginning: A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong (673). Ultimately, Montresor just wants revenge against Fortunato. In order for Fortunato to experience the full scale of revenge that Montresor has envisioned, he must come face to face with unthinkable fear

Burton 4 and torture. The narrator is unwavering in this belief, saying: I must not only punish, but punish with impunity (673). As Elena D. Baraban explains, the intriguing silence about the nature of the insult that made Montresor murder Fortunato has given rise to explanations of Montresors deed through insanity (Baraban, 50). Being a story of madness and vengeance, Montresors true motive for doing away with Fortunato is unclear. The point that is made completely apparent, however, is that Montresor has no regard for Fortunatos suffering and he certainly has no remorse regarding his death. Fortunatos last words are: For the love of God, Montresor! (Poe, 678). Montresor simply responds: Yes, for the love of God! (678). When Montresor calls to Fortunato again but receives no response, he states that: My heart grew sick- on account of the dampness of the catacombs (678). He shows no regret for the fact that he just left a man to die beneath his very own house. Montresors violent act is driven by the overwhelming need for revenge; he does not take time to consider the feelings of his opponent. Montresors only concern is setting a spectacular trap for Fortunato. As Baraban explains: Far from being a mediocre murderer, Montresor elaborates a sophisticated philosophy of revenge (Baraban, 48). This philosophy requires punishment in the cruelest form. It is Montresors intention to make Fortunato suffer in the most extreme way. Edgar Allan Poes dark tale of ruthless revenge utilizes devices such as setting, characterization, dialogue, and conflict to reveal the underlying theme. As the important elements of the story unfold, the theme of revenge through cruel torture is unveiled. The symbolism throughout The Cask of Amontillado is abundant, and each piece plays a role in constructing the puzzle. I think that youve done a good job thinking about the story, and you have strong points about how to interpret it. However, I want to comment on the way youre using the terminology and the way youre constructing your argument. FirstI dont think symbolism is really the right term for what youre talking about in the paperif it were symbolism, you would be showing

Burton 5 me specific symbols (the cask, the trowel, iconography, colors, etcyou start to do this when you talk about their different costumes but its not enough to make symbolism a major topic of your essay) and/or tracing a motif of interconnected symbols throughout the story. But youre talking about characterization, setting, point of view, and conflict. That leads me to the second thing: in your essay, the things you talk about are the right things, but I think the thesis statement and closing paragraph need an update to reflect not symbolism but setting, characterization, and point of view, which is what you do talk about. These lead to a conflict, or build a feeling of conflict. Its ALMOST there, but just think about what your paragraphs DOmaybe try making a reverse outlineand then revise the intro/conclusion. Good job overalllike I said, youre talking about good stuff, just needs to be tightened up a bit.

Works Cited Baraban, Elena D. The Motive for Murder in The Cask of Amontillado. Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 58.2 (2004): 47-62. Web. 18 March 2013. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Cask of Amontillado. The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Seventh Edition. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2005. 673-678. Print.