Can you identify humourous elements in the story "The Cask of Amontillado" and what does the humor add to the story?
Edgar Allan Poe's use of irony is rich in his story "The Cask of Amontillado." Elements of black humor draw us into the story and provide moments of suspense even though the narrator, Montresor, strongly hints at the ending of the story from the first sentence.
First, there is irony and black humor in Fortunato's name. As the target of Montresor's plot for vengeance, he is anything but fortunate. Next, the meeting between Fortunato and Montresor takes place during Carnival. Fortunato is dressed like a court jester. Consider the quote below:
It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend. He accosted me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand.
This is loaded with black humor. It paints a picture in the reader's mind of a stumbling drunken Fortunato, dressed as a court jester, a person who used their wits to earn their living. In this story, Fortunato seems to lack wit and common sense. There is black humor in the fact that both men are so pleased to see each other. Fortunato greets Montresor with excessive warmth, and Montresor says he could not stop shaking his hand because he was so happy to see Fortunato. In the lines following this quote, Montresor tells Fortunato he is "luckily met" while the reader knows he is anything but lucky in this meeting.
Another humorous element is when Montresor calls Fortunato a quack but says that when it came to his knowledge of wine, he was sincere.
When Montresor lures Fortunato into the catacombs, he gives Fortunato several chances to change his mind and let him turn back from the catacombs. However, the readers know that he has plotted Fortunato's demise carefully, so he is not really sincere in his admonishment to Fortunato to turn back and take care of himself. His expressions of concern are like a cat playing with a mouse before it kills the poor creature, and in this story Montresor's playing with Fortunato is black humor that heightens the suspense and horror. When Fortunato answers that his cough is nothing, that he will not die of a cough, Montresor answers "True...true" knowing that he has plotted his demise.
Finally, there is an element of black humor when Fortunato gives Montresor the secret sign of the Masons and then ascertains that Montresor is not a part of the secret society because he does not give the sign back. Montresor says that he is a Mason, and Fortunato demands a sign. Montresor produces the trowel he will use to build the wall that will entomb Fortunato.
Any humor in Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" is dark humor, indeed. I can only tell you what I have found amusing when I read this story. I'm always a little amused when Montressor says he told his servants he wouldn't be home until the next day but expected them to be there to do their jobs--knowing full well they'd all take off for Carnival. I also enjoy the picture Poe draws of Fortunato in his crazy "parti-colored" jester-like outfit. It's slightly amusing to see Fortunato get lured into the catacombs, though it's not funny to think of what happens to him there. Finally, I always like the picture of Fortunato giving secret Masonic signals to a very confused Montressor. These are not, as I said, wildly comical; instead, they are amusing incidents in a very dark work. If the humorous elements were truly outrageously funny, it would clash dramatically with the somber and melancholy tone found in the rest of the work. These moments are a perfect accompaniment and contrast to that darkness, I think, and each of them serves to advance some dramatic element of plot in the story.