Many have pondered over humans’ peculiar attraction to horror and fright. One assumes that people generally avoid discomfort and distress rather than purposefully seek it out. Yet why then are people so enthralled and captivated by the chilling prospects of death and torture? Some speculate that it is the thrill rather than the fear that an audience finds so fascinating. Others postulate that it is a form of escaping the real world’s horrors. Yet most will agree that in regards to the genre of horror, actual fear is kept at arm’s length. Most will never know the true terror of being, say, buried alive; or, in the case of the unfortunate Fortunato, immured in old and haunting catacombs left to soon join the cursed souls of the dead that surround him. The story of Fortunato’s demise takes place in a nameless town in an unspecified year. It is the tale of the revenge of Montresor, who Fortunato has offended in some unknown way. Through Montresor’s eyes the audience sees his plans unfold as the drunken Fortunato is whisked away from Carnival on the promise of his deepest weakness, Amontillado wine. But as the two enter into the depths of the catacombs beneath Montresor’s palazzo, one sees that Fortunato’s fortune is soon to run dry. In “The Cask of Amontillado”, Edgar Allen Poe masterfully combines the elements of fiction; yet his use of irony, symbolism and theme stand out among the rest, intertwining to create a captivating but chilling story of horror and revenge.
Throughout the story, Poe utilizes irony to drive suspense and foreshadow the coming fate of Fortunato, in addition to emphasizing the ominous tone. Montresor’s sly character has no reservations about telling the reader of his intentions toward Fortunato. However in his “poor friend’s” presence, he cleverly twists his words and actions to fool him (2). After Fortunato’s offense upon him, Montresor adorns the act of the same good friend as always and all the while Fortunato “never perceives that the smile now is at the thought of his immolation” (1). The dramatic irony of Fortunato’s impending fate not only adds suspense to his foreshadowed death but adds a dark and somber note, revealing the sinister character of Montresor. Later, deep inside the catacombs, Montresor ironically claims to be a mason by “producing a trowel from beneath the folds of [his] roquelaire” while Fortunato boasts of his involvement in the Brotherhood of Masons” (4). Montresor’s meaning is literal in the sense of a stonemason, or someone who constructs things out of stones and mortar, namely the grave of Fortunato. Again Montresor adds chilling suspense while foreshadowing the impeding immurement unbeknownst to Fortunato. The dialog between Montresor and Fortunato is littered with verbal irony, almost as if Montresor is playing with his prey before he kills him. Montresor constantly speaks of Fortunato’s “precious health” and even drinks to his long life after Fortunato has already toasted “the buried that repose around [them]” (3). Montresor’s taunting, undetected by Fortunato, shows that he relishes and take pleasure in his revenge. In addition it leaves the reader in anticipation for the coming demise. Fortunato’s very name is blatantly ironic as he is anything but fortunate to make the acquaintance of such a vengeful man as Montresor. But the most ironic quality of Fortunato in this tale is not his name but his dress. Donned in “tight-fitting parti-striped dress with his head surmounted by the conical cap and bells” Fortunato is truly dressed like the fool Montresor makes him out to be (1). Fortunato is easily baited by Montresor’s manipulation of his vanity and pride, thus giving his motley colored jester costume a macabre and ironic twist.
Poe employs symbolism to escalate the sinister and vengeful mood and creates depth in the story through the representation of abstract ideas which help to characterize the protagonist, Montresor. The title itself,