How does the narrator in "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allen Poe influence reader expectations or manipulate reader sympathies?
Montresor influences readers with the opening sentence: "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge." This manipulates the reader because now we are expecting a revenge story. What did Fortunato do to make the narrator so angry? What will the revenge be? Will the narrator get away with it? The reader may find themselves siding with Montresor in his quest for revenge or feeling pity for Fortunato (or even both).
All of these help build the story's suspense.
Poe also uses irony to influence the readers. My students particularly enjoy how Montresor toys with Fortunato. For example, when Fortunato states that he is suffering from a cough but it won't kill him, Montresor agrees . . . and it is dramatic irony because we suspect that his cough certainly won't kill him . . . Montresor will.
This irony is repeated when Fortunato asks if Montresor is a member of the freemasons (a rather notorious secret society). It is clear now that Montresor is not on the same social level as Fortunato. However, while Fortunato can laugh at Montresor for not being part of the "brotherhood." However, Montresor has the final laugh for he produces a "trowel." By now the reader might be able to guess Montresor's revenge.
Even the ending is left open to debate. If the bones haven't been disturbed for fifty years, then he got away with it. But what about Fortunato's family? Why did Montresor finally confess his crime?
Poe's careful plot producing an effect by means of imaginative use of words, syntax and sound can only influence the reader. This technique and the use of first person narrator, plunges the reader into an atmosphere of heightened senses and anxiety: "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne...but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge." These strong words arrest the reader, who wonders what has occurred; furthermore the reader is made captive by the tone of anxiety since he/she never learns what the "thousand injuries" are. Instead, the narrative has as its single focus the frenetic path of revenge. Every word, action of Montesor has the single, horrific design of returning insult and seeking vengeance through deception. Montesor's feigning concern for Fortunato's health and Fortunato's refusals along with a dialogue ripe with irony that the obtuse Fortunato does not understand moves the reader's sympathies toward the avenger. As the clever Montesor leads Fortunato,"stupidly bewildered," into the recess and shakles him to the wall, he is too "astounded to resist." At this point the reader begins to wonder if Montesor does not deserve to be thus tricked. Even when Montesor begins to wall him in, Montesor does not react as expected; he asks dumbly about the Amontillado and is silent. Only the ending stirs logic again in the reader.
The narrator takes on the role of someone victimized by Fortunato, speaking of the "thousand injuries" he has borne up to present without complaint. This is a purely subjective statement and the reader has no way to discern whether the narrator is a true victim or not. But the tone of pathos , even empathy, has already been set.
The narrator also addresses the reader as person in whom he has absolute confidence. Here is someone to whom he may confide his innermost secrets without betrayal. This is a subtle but very efficient form of "emotional bribing," where the narrator is tricked into a complicity and intimacy he did not initially bargain for.
Montresor also speaks of the "great family" he belongs to, not just in number but in prestige. If because of Fortunato he is a fallen man, it must have been a terrible plunge indeed. Even the Montresor coat-of-arms graphically shows the "justice" of retribution. The golden heel crushing the serpent underfoot - there is definitely a "Mafioso" code of honour in vigour here!
In all these ways Montresor sollicits the reader's sympathies. Whether he gets them or not is another question....