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Explain how Edgar Allen Poe did or did not follow his own guidelines in Cask of...

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peacantan34 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 22, 2010 at 12:50 PM via web

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Explain how Edgar Allen Poe did or did not follow his own guidelines in Cask of Amontillado.

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rshaffer | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted January 22, 2010 at 11:46 PM (Answer #1)

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This question can be answered with both ideas in mind, but I tend to see Poe following his guidelines more than not.  First, Poe was well known for incorporating many elements of Gothicism in his works, thus being known as the master of Gothic tales.  Some characteristics true to Gothic tales are the mystery, violence, and supernatural horror presented primarily in  medieval castles. The Cask of Amontillado presents many of these characteristics. For example, the setting takes place in the "palazzo" of the Montresors. The palazzo itself fits the Gothic element because it is a palace with many rooms, one of which in the story is the catacombs. The description Poe uses as Montresor and Fortunato are descending to the catacombs is also characteristic of Gothic writing.  Images such as "long, winding staircase," "dark and damp passageway," and "piles of bones," coupled with words such as "dripping moisture," "growing moss," and "flickering torches" all add to the drama of horror and suspense, which in turn leads to the violence of chaining Fortunato to the catacomb walls.

The arguable point of Poe straying from the Gothic elements is derived from the lack of supernatural happenings.  Albeit the short story is bizarre, it is believable. Every element that Poe uses can be considered "real life" as well as not giving Montresor superhuman powers.  His trickery instead lies within his clever witticism. Therefore, Poe's story is considered a true Gothic tale.

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katyeah | Student , Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 25, 2010 at 5:07 AM (Answer #2)

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Poe can be seen as betraying his own guidelines in this story because he is known for his belief that each work should portrey a "specific single effect" and therefore "the writer should carefully calculate every sentiment and idea". But in the Cask of Amontillado there appear to be elements of both Horror and comedy. I have not found anyone who didn't laugh at the following exchange:

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He laughed and threw the bottle upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand.

I looked at him in surprise. He repeated the movement -- a grotesque one.

"You do not comprehend?" he said.

"Not I," I replied.

"Then you are not of the brotherhood."

"How?"

"You are not of the masons."

"Yes, yes," I said "yes! yes."

"You? Impossible! A mason?"

"A mason," I replied.

"A sign," he said.

"It is this," I answered, producing a trowel from beneath the folds of my roquelaire.

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It is a very amusing pun in which Poe's narrator is speaking of the profession of masonry and the victim is speaking of the Mason's, a secret society. The absurdity of the man pulling out a trowel at that moment is seen as highly comedic by many sources. In that moment we are not afraid for the victim or horrified, as is supposed to be the case in the story but instead we are laughing with the murderer.

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