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Edgar Allan Poe’s short story; The Cask of Amontillado is a narration by the protagonist in the first person point of view where he gives details of the process of executing vengeance on a foe. Montessori dupes his victim, Fortunato, that he has kept wine whose quality he doubts in an underground vault, among the catacombs, contained in a cask. The protagonist succeeds to lead his victim to a dark recess in the catacombs where he chains him and constructs a wall to seal him in while he is still alive, but evidently irrational. The protagonist unfairly takes advantage of Fortunato’s liking of wine to lure him to death. The narrator says of Fortunato that he had a weak point; nevertheless he was a proud and respected man (Poe n. pag.). Incidentally, the protagonist, Montessori, is telling the story retrospectively fifty years after the events. However, as it turns out at the end of the story, the vengeance is practically ineffective judging by the intentions of the protagonist compared to the outcome.
The main theme of the story is the effectiveness of revenge, as it is about Montresor taking avenging himself by killing Fortunato in reaction to an insult. After Montresor decides to revenge against Fortunato, he looks for the most discreet but efficient way to execute his plan. He says that the wrong things are unredressed only when the retribution takes over their redresser. It is also equally unredressed when avenger cannot make himself feel he has done something wrong. (Poe 1). This intention by Montresor intimates that he is bound to revenge in the most self serving manner.
There is an irony in the story concerning the theme of revenge that Montresor has purposed to undertake. The persistent irony of the narration by Montresor even complicates the venture to understand the motives of the tale (Sheets-Nesbitt 29). Coincidentally, the irony is an instrumental in depicting that the protagonist fail to achieve his intent. In the first declaration about revenge, Montresor claims the revenge he intended would espouse the avenger being felt and the retribution not overtaking its redresser. None of these motives are achieved rather the protagonist ironically fails. Sheets-Nesbitt (300) holds the view that by the end of the story Fortunato has escaped to the haven of a fool such that he cannot perceive rationally what Montresor is doing. Henninger (39) claims that Montresor’s heart grew sick in the course of revenging, since Fortunato goes totally mad, therefore he is practically avenging himself against an animal. On the bit of impunity, Sheets-Nesbitt argues that the fifty years which Montresor keeps the event secret enough counter vengeance for Fortunato, for the former could not have peace without confessing the heinous act (Sheets-Nesbitt 301). Montresor actually commits the murder against Fortunato which is a heinous crime that haunts him later in life. The inability to make Fortunato feel that the vengeance and the long time of bearing the burden of the deed for the protagonist clearly indicate that the revenge is ironically not achieved.
The protagonist stands to be judged harshly by the readers as being the villain, rather than Fortunato. The author tactically takes the reader through the execution of the plan of Montresor, while exposing the malevolence he intends. Henninger (37) observes that the crafty Montresor lures the unfortunate Fortunato to his death. Fortunato is trying to be friendly to the protagonist throughout the story, in spite of his own conceit and drunkenness. As he progressively gets hysterical and later, completely mad, the protagonist is determined to harm him. Henninger claims that the vendetta by the end of the story is executed upon an animal (39). The gut of Montresor to complete the vengeance against a mad man shows his maliciousness.
Montresor is not remorseful for killing Fortunato, hence, elicits little sympathy from those he is confessing to. Evidently, the story is about a criminal detailing how he committed the murder. Sheets-Nesbitt (297) notes that it is evident from the pleasure which Montresor derives from telling the story fifty years later that his state of mind is detached from any sense of conscience or remorse for his actions. The manner and tone of telling it clearly shows that Montresor is not atoned, since he is evidently proud of the monstrous deed (Baraban 49). Montresor’s claim that his “heart grew sick - on account of the catacombs” (Poe n. pag.) and not due to what he was doing shows that he feels no guilt for the deed and effectively destroys hope for his soul being atoned. As a mason, Montresor’s act of taking mortar and trowel to victimize Fortunato ends up being an act of self-victimization (Baraban 47). Therefore, Montresor depicts himself as an overly evil person, hence his revenge can be deemed inappropriate.
Montresor kills Fortunato in The Cask of Amontillado as revenge, but his vengeance backfires. Montresor sets out with lofty intent of making his revenge felt and to do it with impunity. However, the vengeance is rather ironically not achieved, since though he manages to kill Fortunato, his scheme is barely satisfied. The protagonist is portrayed as more malicious compared to his victim, due to his adamancy on taking revenge even after the latter gets mentally incapacitated. Montresor is even made worse by his inability to recognize his action as malicious; hence he paints himself as an evil person. “The Cask of Amontillado” may seem to be about Montresor’s successful revenge, but closer reading of it reveals that he fails completely in the quest.