Homework Help

I need help comparing and contrasting “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan...

user profile pic

jsilkin | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 9, 2012 at 4:57 PM via web

dislike 1 like

I need help comparing and contrasting “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe  and “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.

Compare one of the following: symbolism, foreshadowing , tradition, setting, or death.

1 Answer | Add Yours

user profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 17, 2013 at 9:23 PM (Answer #1)

dislike 1 like

The two stories have one important thing in common. They both end with what critics often call a frisson, a word which is best defined by remembering the feelings of cold fear both stories evoke. However, the stories are obviously very different in their settings.

The action in "The Cask of Amontillado" takes place in Venice, Italy in a distant time. It occurs at night, deep underground, and no one knows about what happens except Montresor and Fortunato. Montresor states at the end of the story:

I hastened to make an end of my labour. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I reerected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them.

By contrast, the action in "The Lottery" takes place in present-day America in broad daylight and in front of the entire population of the small town where the annual lottery is held.

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o'clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours...

So Fortunato's death takes place in solitary darkness while the death of Tess Hutchinson occurs in front of about three hundred people in broad daylight. Nevertheless, both stories evoke similar feelings of horror in the reader because of the cold-blooded ways in which both victims are executed.

Both Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allan Poe paid careful attention to the settings of their stories, although they both came up with such different ones. Poe is intentionally Gothic, and thus he seems to us old-fashioned. He wants to create a oppressively gloomy atmosphere with his descriptions of the dark, dank catacombs filled with human bones. Shirley Jackson, on the other hand, wants her setting to convey the feeling of a typical American town full of typical American men, women and children who are in a festive mood right up until the point where they all converge on poor Tessie Hutchinson and stone her to death. Montresor could never have gotten by with his murder of Fortunato in a town such as the one depicted in "The Lottery." It seems unlikely that Poe would ever have conceived of such a story as Shirley Jackson's. Her story has a much more "modern" tone, largely because of its homey setting and folksy characters, while Poe's is relentlessly Gothic, like most of his tales of terror.

Poe set his story in a distant land and a different time because he wanted to write about a perfect crime and did not believe that  American readers would approve of a contemporary American going unpunished for committing such a cold-blooded murder. Shirley Jackson set her story right in the heartland of America because she wanted to shock her readers by showing a whole village committing a cold-blooded murder in the present day and in broad daylight. Montresor gets by with his crime because he is fiendishly clever and operates in the dead of night. The villagers in "The Lottery" all get by with their crime because they seem to live in such incredible isolation from the modern world.

Sources:

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes