How do I write a paper comparing Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" and Twain's "The Story of the Good Little Boy"?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One particular approach to take in comparing both would be to discuss how each explores the nature of transgression.  At the heart of both works is the idea of human beings doing bad things.  Jacob Blivens believes that goodness should prevail and that "being good" will carry external reward.  The reality is that it doesn't.  In fact, Jacob has trouble understanding why he, who follows the rule of "good" is always suffering, while others, who commit transgressions, end up benefitting.  This is something that haunts Jacob:  "But somehow nothing ever went right with this good little boy; nothing ever turned out with him the way it turned out with the good little boys in the books."  There is an element to the universe that seems dissonant to Jacob.  It is a reality not "in the books."  The nature of transgression and wrongful behavior not being punished appropriately becomes a critical aspect of Jacob's narrative.

The perceived presence of wrong in the world is of vital importance in Poe's work, as well.  The opening of the story is one in which Montresor confesses that justice has not been carried out.  That who has done wrong has not been properly punished: "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.’’  In a more malevolent way, Montresor echoes Jacob's sentiment in that he fails to understand why some aspect of justice has not been delivered.  For both Jacob and Montresor, people who have done wrong have not been sufficiently punished.  A similarity evident in both texts is that that protagonist of each wonders why they suffer when others who commit transgressions do not experience any proportional treatment. The lack of a perceived agent to "make things right" becomes of vital importance to both protagonists.

The contrast lies in how both characters respond to this perceived injustice in the world. Jacob never relents in his desire to be included in "Sunday school texts."  His response to the injustice in the world is to fortify his attempts at being good. He doubles down on his supposed goodness. It is for this reason that Jacob's life ends, always having a "hard time of it." Montresor does not assume this position. He believes that his actions are motivated by the "thousand injuries" he absorbs.  In sealing off Fortunato, Montresor believes that he has taken action in the absence of it. This is confirmed in his response to Fortunato's pleas of "Yes, for the love of God!'' While both works address the nature of sin and transgression, there is a definite difference in how this is addressed.  

Delving into how both works depict protagonists who struggle with the presence of what they see as transgression in the world and their different levels of response to it might be where a potential thesis statement lies.  In doing so, there is convergence and divergence between both works displayed.

Read the study guide:
The Cask of Amontillado

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