illustration of Fortunato standing in motley behind a mostly completed brick wall with a skull superimposed on the wall where his face should be

The Cask of Amontillado

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Did the author use personification in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

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While walking through the vaults, Fortunato begins to cough violently, perhaps as a result of the niter that covers the walls of the catacombs. Niter is another name for potassium nitrate, a kind of white salt that is naturally produced and used in a variety of ways. It, apparently, is affecting the air below ground, and this exacerbates the cold symptoms Fortunato already has. Montresor offers him some wine, to take the edge off Fortunato's cough, and Fortunato says,

"I drink [...] to the buried that repose around us."

The word repose may constitute an example of personification. It can describe the action of one who lays down or rests, as though they are sleeping. There are several definitions of the word that could personify the dead, discussing them as though they are still alive and yet merely resting. However, the word can also be used to describe the posture of an inanimate object, like a body, and so, using this definition, it would not be personification.

In the final paragraph, Montresor says, when Fortunato goes silent within the wall, "My heart grew sick." His heart cannot actually grow sick, but people can, and so Montresor personifies his heart in order to express how ill—perhaps with guilt or fear or remorse—he feels. Since the heart is often associated with emotion, it makes sense that Montresor is describing negative emotions and not a physical ailment.

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When Montresor gives Fortunato some Medoc to drink, the author notes that Montresor knocks the "neck" off of a bottle. This is a common term for the top, slender part of any bottle. But it is an example of endowing an object with human characteristics. 

There is a better example of personification near the end of the story. Montresor and Fortunato are deep into the crypt. Three of the walls are lined with bones. The fourth wall is not because the bones had fallen down. Poe describe it like this: "the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size." Promiscuous means impure, random, haphazard, or careless. To be clear, having the quality of randomness does not imply personification. But since these were once bones in a human body, and given the morbid tone of this story, Poe is giving the bones an eerie notion of personification. It is subtle but the intention is to suggest that the bones are communicating a sense of randomness or carelessness and maybe even impurity. In other words, the bones are suggesting these notions. To suggest something, they would need to be sentient and be conscious. These are human traits. 

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