What gothic elements are present in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

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Gothic literature, also known as gothic fantasy or gothic horror, is an outgrowth of dark Romanticism that developed in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The first use of the term in a literary context was in 1764 in the title of Howard Walpole's novel The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic...

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Gothic literature, also known as gothic fantasy or gothic horror, is an outgrowth of dark Romanticism that developed in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The first use of the term in a literary context was in 1764 in the title of Howard Walpole's novel The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. Other examples of nineteenth-century literature that were considered Gothic included Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Dracula by Bram Stoker.

One of the first American writers to employ Gothic elements was Washington Irving in his short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." The acknowledged master of American Gothic literature, though, was Edgar Allen Poe.

Elements often present in early Gothic stories included castles, ancient houses, medieval backgrounds, aristocratic decadence, darkness, monsters, and the supernatural. To these elements, Poe added mental illness and psychological trauma.

Poe's famous short story "The Cask of Amontillado" contains numerous Gothic elements. For instance, throughout the story, the narrator shows the psychological instability of a person obsessed with revenge. The story begins at dusk "during the supreme madness of the carnival season," immediately setting a backdrop of darkness and madness. The narrator Montresor lives in a vast mysterious house with innumerable rooms and extensive underground cellars and catacombs.

When Fortunato and Montresor descend into the catacombs, they encounter deeper darkness lit only by flickering torches, dampness that brings on coughing fits, and ominous streaks of niter along the walls. Further on there are piles of skeletons, and the niter hangs like moss from the ceilings. These are all Gothic elements that Poe adds to lend frightening verisimilitude to the story.

Poe ends the story with one of the most horrifying of Gothic elements: a type of premature burial in which a man is chained in an utterly dark recess where he is left to go mad and then die in lonely agony.

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Another aspect of Gothic Literature is that it often aims to produce terror in its audience. The Gothic is sort of a subgenre to Romantic literature, and the Romantics believed in the primacy of feeling and intense emotion over reason and logic. In their minds, since we do not have to be taught how to feel intense emotion, it is more meaningful and fundamental to the human experience than reason, something we must learn later. And what emotion could be more intense than terror? Fear is a very powerful feeling.

Poe's story produces this sense of terror in the reader in part because of the sheer cruelty and horror of Montresor's method of killing Fortunato. It is not a quick, painless death but rather one that will be long and drawn out. Moreover, the idea that a person might resort to murder in exchange for another's mere words, however harsh those words are, is equally terrible.

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Gothic literature features dark, gloomy settings, often in a castle with secret passageways, as well as isolation, death or the threat of death, a dream-like or nightmare-like setting, and an atmosphere of foreboding or horror. Poe's story takes place in a dark catacomb as Montresor and Fortunato thread their way alone through narrow passageways, underground and far from any other living humans. A sense of foreboding permeates the tale, as we know Montresor is bent on revenge. The fact that it is Mardi Gras, a day when normally out-of-bounds behavior is allowed and even encouraged, coupled with Fortunato's drunkenness, adds a kiltered, dream-like quality to events. Gothic literature often features a vulnerable female victim. In this case, there is no female character, but there is a vulnerable victim. Finally, Montresor murders Fortunato in a horrible way, chaining him in the dark catacombs and then walling him in with bricks. A major element of Gothic literature is the revelation of the shadow side in people's psyches, the darkness humans can hide under a facade of civilized behavior, and Poe clearly reveals Montresor's darkness. All of this points to the uncanny or unhomelike quality of Gothic literature: it functions to unsettle us rather than comfort us, and this story does unsettle us.

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"The Cask of Amontillado" is a classic Gothic horror tale. Poe uses many tropes of Gothic stories, including dark imagery, underground chambers, and violent revenge. The most important element in the story utilizes Poe's longtime fear of being buried alive; although this itself is not directly indicated in the Gothic tradition, it plays well into other elements, including the underground chambers. As Montresor takes his revenge, the wine-cellar becomes almost a medieval torture chamber instead of a repository for wealthy wine collectors; the torches on the walls sputter instead of shining brightly, and the walls are not clean and dry but covered by nitre, which adds to the claustrophobic mood.

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