Why does Poe use first-person narration in "The Cask of Amontillado?"

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Cask of Amontillado is an 1846 short story by renowned author Edgar Alen Poe, in which a socially injured member of Italian nobility takes revenge on the man who slighted him.

The story is told through first-person narration, as if the narrator is telling the story to a listening person. In fact, the narrator, Montresor, directly addresses the reader on several occasions, such as the opening lines:

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.

Here, the receiver of the tale is assumed to be on the same social class as Montresor himself; the idea that Montresor would threaten Fortunato instead of simply acting is unthinkable in his eyes. By personalizing the narration, Montresor's crime is brought closer, as if he is trusting the reader with a dark secret. Indeed, if the end of the story is believed, Montresor has not confessed for over fifty years.

Another useful aspect of first-person narration is how it allows the teller of the tale -- Montresor -- to entirely control the meaning of context. A third-person narrative would have been too far removed from the personal nature of the story. We have no real information about the injury of Fortunato, but in Montresor's eyes it was enough to deserve death. We see Fortunato as a drunken fool, but one who at some point was a threat, and Montresor makes no effort to conceal his scorn, appealing to Fortunato's arrogance -- or possibly his deserved skill in wine-tasting; we cannot be sure, since Montresor is biased.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poe's characteristic use of the first-person narrator is intrinsic to the real horror of his short story, "The Cask of Amontillado."  For, while Poe uses the Gothic conventions in creating an atmosphere of terror, it is enhanced by Poe's technique of arasbesque, the pattern of returning to the initial disturbing idea of Montresor's deceptive concern for Fortunato's health when he really plans cold-bloodied murder in a torturous manner. For instance, throughout their traversal of the family catacombs, Montresor arrests Fortuato's progress in feigned concern to both his victim and his audience,

"Come," I said, with decision, "we will go back; your health is precious.  You are rich, respected, admired, belove; you are happy, as once I was.  You are a man to be missed.  For me it is not matter.  We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible...." 

With this use of the demented narrator Montresor, it is not the Gothic use of supernatural that creates fear in the reader, but rather the perception of the sequence of events through Montresor's eyes and mind that generates the real horror, the horror that lies in all that which the human heart is capable.

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The Cask of Amontillado

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