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"The Cask Of Amontillado" is a sordid tale of irony and vengeance. While anyone can read and enjoy this tale of revenge, one may hypothesize that Poe wrote this tale to explore his own neurosis in his unresolved feelings towards his adopted father, John Allan. From the very beginning we are made aware that this is a tale demonstrating a royal righting of all wrongs: Montresor tells us that
"he must not only punish but punish with impunity."
He is adamant that Fortunato know who it is who will exact revenge upon him for "the thousand injuries" Montresor has suffered at his hands. With almost morbid glee, Montresor tells his confessor that he is adamant that he himself never be held liable for this act of vengeance. So there is a bit of foreshadowing here for us readers: we now know nothing good is going to happen to Fortunato at Montresor's hands. In fact, his very name, Fortunato, becomes an irony. Montresor preys on Fortunato's pride and lures him to his fate as they descend into his family's catacombs. With macabre humor and almost obsequious courtesy, he tempts Fortunato to ever higher levels of intoxication as they descend to what will be Fortunato's own tomb; ironically, Fortunato is to be buried within the Montresor family tomb.
Here we receive a glimpse into the mind of a criminal, for that is what Montresor is, even though he is an Italian aristocrat. Poe is showing us that no one is exempt from sinister acts of evil, least of all an aristocrat. Unwittingly, Poe also shows us a glimpse into his own mind. With both parents dead when he was barely three years old, Poe was raised by his new father, John Allan, a wealthy tobacco merchant. Allan was a miser and actually sent Poe away to college with
"less than a third of the money he needed, and Poe soon took up gambling to raise money to pay his expenses. By the end of his first term Poe was so desperately poor that he burned his furniture to keep warm." (Poe's Life)
Poe was humiliated by his unnecessary poverty and eventually returned home to Richmond. His relationship with Allan was extremely strained by this time, and even though Allan managed to obtain an appointment for Poe to the United States Military Academy at West Point, Poe
"wrote to Allan detailing all the wrongs Allan had committed against him and threatened to get himself expelled from the academy. After only eight months at West Point Poe was thrown out..." (Poe's Life)
Here, we are reminded of the "thousand injuries of Fortunato."
Once again, Allan did not provide enough funds for Poe to maintain himself as a cadet at West Point; in desperation to extricate himself from such a distressing state of affairs, it was Poe who finally earned himself a dismissal through conscious violation of various regulations.
Poe never reconciled with Allan; the final indignity to Poe came when Allan provided for an illegitimate child in his will after his death and left Poe out of his will completely. It's not hard to see why this tale may have been a very personal one for Poe. When Fortunato realizes what is happening to him amidst his drunken stupor and begs "For the love of God, Montresor!" to be a little reasonable, who is to say that the telling of this tale was not an act of catharsis for the author?
Poe's goal may have also been to show his distrust and personal animosity towards the aristocracy of his time. Having been born poor (to traveling actors in Boston) and adopted by a Scottish merchant, he was always deeply conscious of his roots. It seems incongruous that his new father, Allan, while outwardly receiving the admiration of high society for adopting a son from such a disadvantaged background, would choose to torment Poe by never providing him with enough for his needs at college. Never was Poe more cognizant of his low birth than at the University of Virginia, where his blue blood classmates made him painfully aware of his low status, stemming from his birth heritage. In "The Cask Of Amontillado," Montresor represents the hypocrisy of the aristocratic power structure that Poe learned to detest in his lifetime.
"It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will."
Yet, while committing great injustices, the blue-bloods of his association covered up malfeasance the way Montresor does: with ingratiating good humor and a veneer of respectability. Even as he prays "In pace requiescat!" for the poor Fortunato, he has deprived Fortunato of ever seeing daylight again.
So this interesting tale may have been on the surface a simple tale of revenge, but it could also have represented the author's very personal life experiences while growing up in the highest levels of society. Also, who is to say that his own animosity towards his adopted father may not have been a catalyst for this macabre tale of vengeance?
Poe, Edgar A. “The Cask of Amontillado.” Writing Essays About Literature: A Guide and Style Sheet. Ed. Kelley Griffith. 8th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2011. 402-407. Print.
Pruette, Lorine. “A Psycho-Analytical Study of Edgar Allan Poe.” The American Journal of Psychology 31.4 (1920): 370-402. JSTOR. Web. 18 Sep. 2012
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