illustrated portrait of American author of gothic fiction Edgar Allan Poe

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Use evidence from both texts to show how Stephen King's "Dolan’s Cadillac" transforms and interprets Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," and use evidence from both texts to show how Poe and King present a common theme.

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This is a fascinating question! If you are familiar with both stories, you will be able to identify immediately where Stephen King's clever use of intertextuality gives away the fact that his story is a deliberate homage to or reinterpretation of Poe's. To a certain extent, we could have argued that the similarities between the stories were only coincidental, were it not for the words uttered by the victim, Dolan, and the murderer/narrator, Robinson, at the moment of burial—"For the love of God, Robinson!" and "Yes . . . for the love of God." This can only be a deliberate reference to the same lines spoken in Poe's story: "For the love of God, Montresor!" These are some of the most well-known lines in all of Poe's writing, and this makes clear the fact that King definitely had Poe in mind when he was writing.

That being the case, then, what are the similarities between the two stories? In both cases:

  1. 1The narrator of the story is the murderer, and he is describing to the reader how he has set out to commit his murder.
  2. The nature of the murder is very similar—in both cases, the victim is buried alive. In both texts, too, the victims are encouraged to enter traps set by the murderers under their own power. Fortunado is lured into the trap through a manipulation of his love of wine; Dolan is hoodwinked by signs showing a diversion such that he drives his own truck into a pit from which he cannot escape.
  3. In both stories, the motive for murder is revenge. This motive also serves as the key theme of each story: King begins with the quotation that "revenge is a dish best served cold," while in Poe's tale, revenge has been the motivating factor behind Montresor's obsession with Fortunado, whom he pursues single-mindedly with the goal of eliminating him.

So, then, what are the differences? Why might King have wished to reinterpret and transform, as it were, this story?

One key element is that the reason behind Robinson's quest for revenge is elucidated. We might question whether King had wondered why Montresor was so invested in bringing down Fortunado—Poe does not tell us what crime had been committed against Montresor, specifically, which makes it difficult to determine whether he is "justified" at all in doing what he does or whether he is a madman. Robinson, on the other hand, knows that Dolan has killed his wife. His revenge, then, is driven by love, which makes us think about him rather differently—we are more inclined to believe that he has some justification for doing what he does. Dolan is presented less as a fool—there is no dressing of him in motley or jingling of bells—and more as a crazed criminal who laughs at the end of his life.

One interesting thing to think about, then, might be: how do you feel about each narrator at the end of each story? How does King present his narrator differently to Poe, and how are we affected by the fact that they are telling their own stories? I would argue that King's narrator is more sympathetic than Poe's—but is this simply because he is better able to present himself as such?

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