What do you think Edgar Allan Poe is trying to tell the reader in "The Cask of Amontillado?"
"The Cask of Amontillado" is a work of art. I learned from Leo Tolstoy's great book What is Art? that art is intended to convey feelings, not messages. Poe specifically stated in a famous review of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice-told Tales that a short story should be designed to produce what he called a "single effect." By "effect" he meant feeling--an emotional effect. In analyzing any story by Poe, you should look for the emotional effect it produces in you, and then try to explain (1) exactly what that emotional effect is, and (2) how Poe produces it. The emotional effect is not necessarily a simple effect that can be described with a single word like "horror." In "The Cask of Amontillado," the single effect produced at the end, when Montresor has chained Fortunato to the rock wall and is obviously going to leave him there to die, combines several emotional effects, like a chord in a symphony. We feel pity for the victim, shock at Montresor's fiendish cruelty, and horror at the whole situation. We can also share in Montresor's feelings of success and "closure," because we have been confined to his point of view throughout the tale and therefore can't help identifying with him. He is actually making us accomplices in a murder. It is the final emotional effect that makes the story great, along with the painstaking craftsmanship that has gone to create that memorable final effect. Don't waste your time looking for a message. Concentrate on the feeling.
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