Cask of Amontillado Effect
The setting of Poe’s grim tale, “The Cask of Amontillado,” is dark and eerie, intended to horrify, traumatize, and create unfathomable tension. The most horrific aspect of the Italian locale is the dark, claustrophobic feel of the catacombs in which the story takes place. However, this effect becomes more prominent due to the contrast apparent in the setting within the first pages of the tale. “Carnival season,” in which Montresor, the murderer, first encounters his “friend,” Fortunato, is a season of celebration and “warmth. Because of the festivities, Fortunato is dressed in “motley,” with “tight-fitting parti-striped dress” and a “conical cap and bells. ” From the first encounter, Fortunato is fashioned as the light-hearted fool of the piece, which contrasts greatly with his bitter demise. In addition, “carnival season” directly precedes the forgiveness of sins, indicating the Montresor means to “punish with impunity” and extract a gruesome “revenge” upon Fortunato, in the hope that his sins will be forgiven the following day.
The catacombs, the location in which a majority of the tale unfolds, are used to create an air of apprehension. These catacombs, which lay underneath the city, are “insufferably damp” and “encrusted with nitre,” a mineral that Fortunato appears to be allergic to. This is brought to attention in that his “cough” appears to worsen with the nitre’s accumulation. As the pair descends through the vaults, suspense grows with the increasing depth, intoxication, and nitre growth. The “two flambeaux” the men carry show the increasing “foulness of the air” as they descend.
At the entrance of the catacombs, the torches blaze, but soon begin to “rather glow than flame” and eventually become naught but “feeble rays” that are unable to “pry into the depth” of the recesses. Even as the flames, which represent life and vivacity, begin to die, the “rheum of intoxication” accumulates. Already drunk, Fortunato enters the vaults “unsteady” and witless. As the setting moves deeper into the vaults, Fortunato’s intoxication increases, and with it, the reader’s apprehension, until he “stood stupidly bewildered,” too intoxicated to prevent his own demise.
The reader then experiences horror at Fortunato’s fate, doomed to be sealed within walls where “[he] cannot help but feel the nitre. ” Even with the knowledge of Fortunato’s ill fortune, apprehension and revulsion continue to amass until the crux of the story, which occurs at “midnight” when Montresor’s task “was drawing to a close. ” Midnight is often represented in literature as the witching hour, a moment in time in which good is unable to prevail. That moment brings with it a sudden, horrifying realization that Fortunato cannot escape and will die.
The verbal and dramatic irony present throughout “The Cask of Amontillado” allows greatly for the creation of effect through horror, trauma, and tension. Edgar Allan Poe wrote in his review of Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales that every aspect of a short story must contribute to effect. In “The Cask of Amontillado,” Poe utilizes setting, narration, and irony to construct an effect of moral shock, horror, and suspense. The dark, eerie setting of the catacombs, in combination with the detestable narrator, Montresor, and the abundant irony, involves the readers emotionally in the text by terrifying and traumatizing them.
As each new event in the tale is presented, the reader becomes increasingly engrossed by the effect and is loath to be interrupted because of this emotional fascination. “The Cask of Amontillado” is the quintessence of Poe’s literary aspirations to achieve the unity of effect within every aspect of a piece of literature, combining setting, narration, and irony to create a clearly shocking, horrifying, and suspenseful air that pervades the entire work.