The Cask of Amontillado Questions and Answers
by Edgar Allan Poe

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What is an example of situational irony in "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Situational irony is when what happens is the opposite of what is expected. Situational irony runs throughout the entire story because Fortunato is completely unaware of the danger he is in. Fortunato expects to taste a rare wine, not to be murdered. He thinks Montresor is his friend and that Montresor is doing him a favor. Ironically, it is Fortunato who hurries Montresor towards the catacombs. Fortunato has no idea he is hastening toward his own death. As Montresor says:

Fortunato possessed himself of my arm; and putting on a mask of black silk and drawing a roquelaire closely about my person, I suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo.

Throughout their journey deeper and deeper into the catacombs, Fortunato continues to be completely unaware of the dangerous situation he is in. For example, when Montresor offers to take him back because of his cough, which is worsened by the dampness, it is Fortunato who insists on going forward:

"Enough," he [Fortunato] said; "the cough's a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough."

Again, we read the irony in Fortunato's words. He will not die of a cough. He will die of being walled up and left to starve--but he is completely unaware of what is soon to come. 

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One example of situational irony from this story is when Montresor explains that he told his servants that he would "not return until the morning" and had given them "explicit orders" to remain in the home in his absence.  For this reason, he knows that they would not be there and his house would be empty when he returned with Fortunato.  One would expect servants to listen to their master's order, especially when it is given so explicitly, but their behavior defies expectation.

Another example of situational irony is that Fortunato is dressed as a fool or jester.  Montresor says that he "wore motley" with a snug, multicolored outfit topped by a conical hat studded with bells.  It was common to wear a costume associated with one's opposite -- men might dress as women and vice versa, the poor might dress like the rich, and so forth -- and Fortunato is not a fool.  In fact, Montresor himself claims that Fortunato "was a man to be respected and even feared."  However, Montresor makes a fool of Fortunato tonight, condemning Fortunato for his pride, the pride which makes it funny for him to be dressed as a fool.  Therefore, it is ironic that Fortunato believes that he has dressed as his opposite, a fool to his real respectability, and then is actually made foolish by the exploitation of his own flaws.

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