What is Edgar Allan Poe's style of writing in "The Cask of Amontillado"?
In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado," Poe uses the literary technique of an unreliable narrator like he did in his story entitled "The Tell-Tale Heart."
The term "unreliable narrator" wasn't coined until 1961 when Wayne C. Booth wrote about it in his work entitled The Rhetoric of Fiction. But prior to the term being coined, many notable authors used the technique, such as Poe, William Faulkner, Emily Bronte, Anton Chekhov, and more.
An unreliable narrator carries with it certain characteristics. For instance, the narrator's credibility has to be seriously compromised. This may be evident immediately, or it may take more time to discover. A modern example of this type of narration is The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. In that novel, the narrator is unreliable because of her alcoholism and inability to remember events clearly. Readers assume she is at fault for the terrible events of her life only to learn later that her ex-husband is an abusive social deviant.
Montresor is an unreliable narrator because he is a social deviant. He thinks it's fine and even necessary to kill Fortunato because he insulted him. Alternately, consider the idea that Montresor only imagined killing Fortunato and told us a tall tale. He's still an unreliable narrator because we can't trust him.
But an unreliable narrator is more than just a character we can't trust. An unreliable narrator also conceals information from the audience, as in the example of Montresor not telling the audience what Fortunato did to insult him. Montresor tells the tale expecting that the audience will agree with his viewpoint that it was necessary to kill Fortunato and that he was completely justified in doing so.
Consider the opening paragraph:
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 a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled—but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.
It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my in to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my to smile now was at the thought of his immolation.
Montresor supposes a familiarity with the audience with the words "You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat." Well, the audience doesn't know Montresor at all. So it is a type of madness to assume a familiarity with those whom one is not familiar with. He is trying to establish credibility and relationship where there is none. He is trying to rationally justify murder.
In addition to Poe's use of an unreliable narrator, he also uses the Gothic style of writing in this story, as with most of his literary work. Gothic literature deals with elements of fear, death, and horror, all of which are present in "The Cask of Amontillado." The Gothic style also infuses some Romantic elements, such as nature, individuality, and high emotion. There are references to nature in the nitre of the catacombs in Poe's story, and the high emotion includes Fortunato's fear as well as the suspense the audience feels.
Poe uses a first person narrator, Montresor, who is speaking to an unknown audience. Also, it is never revealed why Montresor seeks revenge, which builds suspense throughout the story. Montresor speaks in a calm, confident voice. He tells the story with no explanation and little emotion. He never suggests feeling guilty for his actions, and seems detached from all proceedings. He is clearly an unreliable narrator, but we are left with only his account of what happened. There is no outside interpretation or judgment.
‘‘The Cask of Amontillado’’ also contains many elements of Gothicism. Some examples are the archway that leads to the ‘‘long and winding staircase’’ down to the catacombs, the damp and dark passageway hanging with moss and dripping moisture, the piles of bones, the flaming torches that flicker and fade, and the clanking chains. The overall atmosphere of mystery and horror also reflect Gothic influences.
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