Edgar Allan Poe is the master of irony in his stories. Every detail in his stories leads toward the climax and overall effect. This is true of his story "The Cask of Amontillado.
As the narrator of the story, the maniacal Montresor loooks back on the death of Fortunato fifty years later. Montresor has committed the perfect crime. After all of this time, Fortunator's body has never been discovered. As his family motto describes, "he has punished with impunity."
Irony is a manner of expression through which words or events convey a reality different from and even opposite to appearance or expectation. Providing the story with humor and wit, irony abounds. From the first line with the thousand injuries to the sound of the bell as Montresor pushes in the last brick, nothing is as it seems. Poe employs all the flavors of irony.
From the beginning of the story, the reader has known that Montresor is seeking revenge. Because the reader is a part of this “secret,” there is a sort of dark humor to the foreshadowing and dramatic irony of this brief scene. As Montresor and Fortunato walk through the catacombs on the way to find the cask of amontillado, the foul, damp air causes Fortunato to cough uncontrollably:
'How long have you had that cough?'
'Ugh!ugh!ugh!--ugh! ugh! ugh!--ugh!ugh!ugh!--ugh!...
My poor fried found it impossible to reply for many minutes.
'It is nothing,' he said, at last.
'Come we will go back; your health is precious....
'Enough,' he said;'the cough' a mere nothing; it will not kil me. I shall not die of a cough.'
'True--true,' I replied.
The quotation sounds sincere and well-meaning; yet this statement is nothing short of humorous. It appears to be a hopeful statement that Fortunato will not die coughing. It is actually wicked and mean spirited and completely accurate because Fortunato will not die from his cough. This is dramatic irony in its highest form.
Ironically, Montresor knows that in a few moments Fortunato will find himself chained and walled in his brick tomb. This will cause his demise. To add to his nefarious actions, Montresor drinks to Fortunato's "long life," which Montresor knows is coming quickly to an end.
It is Edgar Allan Poe's intense use of symbolism and irony throughout the Cask of Amontillado that establishes this short story as one of the best of all American literature. Poe's skillful use of of irony and symbolism create this horrific and suspenseful masterpiece.