How can I analyse the theme of perversity in "The Cask of Amontillado"?
In his short story, "The Cask of Amontillado," Edgar Allan Poe uses the Gothic conventions, but he perverts them by using only humans for the terrible deeds, rather than spiritual forces. It is here that the real horror lies--the capabilities of human beings themselves.
In addition to his spiritually subversive actions of deceiving Fortunato and luring him into the catacombs so that he can bury him alive, Montresor interacts with Fortunato with perverse mannerisms, almost as though he is seducing him. Near the end of the story, there is much language suggestive of a physical seduction in a sado-masochistic fashion. For instance, Montresor narrates that Fortunato tries vainly to "pry into the depth of the recess"; then he steps forward and Montresor follows "immediately at his heels." Further, Montresor, in sadistic fashion, fetters Fortunato to the wall. The sexual innuendos in his words are easily apparent,
"pass you hand...over the wall; you cannot help feeling the niter. Indeed it is very damp....
"The Amontillado!" ejaculated my friend, not yet recovered from his astonishment.
This is followed by a "low moaning cry from the depth of the recess." This cry is later followed by a sucession of "loud and shrill screams" that Montresor describes as causing him to be "thrust...violently back":
For a brief moment I hesitated--I trembled. Unsheathing my rapier, I began to grope with it about the recess....But now there came from out the niche a low laugh that erected the hairs upon my head.
This suggestive language serves to subvert the Gothic conventions even further with its perversity.
The use of sexually suggestive language in this passage indicates how perverse, both psychologically, and possibly physically Montresor is.
In this short story the theme of perversity can be explored through the character of Montresor. The narrative perspective that Poe chooses to use, the first person, is one that allows the reader to see Montresor's perverse mind and the inner-workings of a character who is clearly grappling with sanity. This is something that is signalled in the first paragraph, when Montresor talks of his supposed "injuries":
The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to no threat. At length I would be avenged...
As the reader continues the story, there is no evidence whatsoever of any "injuries" that Fortunato had committed against Montresor; indeed, it would be very unlikely for Fortunato to agree to accompany Montresor so easily on such a night if he had actually wronged Montresor so badly. Montresor's determination to gain his revenge and the manner in which he does it is truly shocking and perverse, and presents him almost as an aberration of humanity, and this perversity is something that Poe focuses on very clearly from the first paragraph, which introduces the reader to the workings of a cold-blooded psychopath. In this short story, as in others such as "The Black Cat" and "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrative perspective allows Poe to introduce the reader to the workings of a madman who is a distinctly unreliable narrator.