What is the tone of "The Cask of Amontillado"? What words does the author use to create that tone?

The tone of "The Cask of Amontillado" is cool and collected, with balanced sentences and stately diction. Gnomic phrases such as "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser" create this effect. The narrator's pride in his artistry, and the atmosphere he creates in committing his crime, is also heightened by references to "nitre," "flambeaux," "catacombs," and "skeletons."

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It is interesting to compare Montresor in "The Cask of Amontillado" with the unnamed narrator another well-known short story by Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart." In the latter case, the speaker is feverish and clearly paranoid, constantly accusing the reader of thinking him mad. Montresor, by contrast, is cool and collected. He is evidently proud of his cunning, and there is a tone of quiet self-satisfaction as he describes his cleverness. He tends to use rather elaborate, stately diction. He had settled that he was to be revenged, he says, but "the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk." Moreover, he shows that he has meditated for some times on the philosophy of revenge and arrived at certain general maxims, observing:

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.

Montresor uses elaborate vocabulary and measured sentences to describe his horrific actions, creating the impression of a cold, logical madman who has lost not his reason but his heart. He is rather vain about the artistry with which his crime is carried out, and heightens the atmosphere with his references to "nitre," "flambeaux" and "catacombs." The "long walls of piled skeletons, with casks and puncheons intermingling" create a gothic atmosphere which suits the sensational nature of the death Montresor has planned for Fortunato.

The Latin tags, ending with the exclamatory "In pace requiescat!" create the impression of a highly-educated and civilized narrator, who has carried his sensitivity to the point of lunacy. The reference to the fact that all this happened "half of a century" ago, however, emphasizes how poised and controlled Montresor is. The narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" could not keep his secret for a few hours. Montresor keeps his for fifty years, and this adamantine self-control is emphasized by the coolness of the story's tone.

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"The Cask of Amontillado" has an incredibly sinister and creepy tone about it.  What's odd for me though is how that tone is delivered.  Montresor is the narrator of the story, and he is a chillingly effective narrator, because his narration is incredibly matter of fact.  He just doesn't spout off and have emotional outbursts.    

Right from the start of the story, the reader is alerted to the overall ominous tone, because Montresor tells his readers that he seeks revenge.  

THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.

Revenge is not an emotionless word.  Had Montresor told his readers that he sought judgment, I could believe that he would confront his "friend" in respectable, adult-like manner.  Or I would even consider that Montresor might use the law.  But that is not what revenge connotes.  Revenge tells readers that Montresor has a dark and evil plan to punish Fortunato.  And not just punish, but he will be punished with impunity.

I must not only punish, but punish with impunity.

Every time I read that line, I picture in my head some Marvel Comics uber villain finishing his plan and giving a maniacal laugh.  

The ominous and creepy tone continues throughout Montresor's narration.  He tells his readers that he sets his plans into motion at dusk.  Not sunset.  Not evening.  Dusk.  Who says that?  Dusk is when the zombies climb out of graves and people make deals with the devil.  Dusk is an eerie word.  

Then Poe really ups the creepy factor by this paragraph:

I took from their sconces two flambeaux, and giving one to Fortunato, bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults. I passed down a long and winding staircase, requesting him to be cautious as he followed. We came at length to the foot of the descent, and stood together on the damp ground of the catacombs of the Montresors.

It's a good thing for Montresor that Fortunato is drunk, because he obviously doesn't pick up on the ominous situation.  He's being led down into a vault, which is where things are hidden and locked away.  It's also not just any staircase to a basement.  It's a long and winding staircase.  Then Poe uses the word "catacombs."  That's where dead people are.  Why on Earth is the wine down there?  Especially since Montresor stated that he had it and wanted Fortunato to try some.  If it were anybody else, the wine would have been brought up to the main level earlier in the evening. 

Then Poe drops words like "crypt" and "mason."  Crypt is creepy for the same reason catacomb is creepy.  Dead people are there.  As for Montresor being a mason, I've read enough history and conspiracy theories to know that all kinds of questionable deeds have been done by the masons.  It's at this point in the story when the reader's intuition starts screaming at Fortunato to get out of there quickly.  But of course he doesn't, and Montresor casually buries him alive.  It hasn't bothered him in fifty years either. 

 

 

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