Religious Imagery and Ritual in The Cask of Amontillado
Edgar Allen Poe, the master of the macabre, understood the fine line between good and evil, between the holy and the profane. He knew how to penetrate the subconscious of his readers by subtly playing off of their most deeply held beliefs. In “The Cask of Amontillado”, Poe brilliantly interweaves religion into a dark tale of revenge. The effect is a once profound and haunting.
The story is told as a first-person confession, possibly to a priest “who so well knew the nature of my soul.” The language is ripe with religious overtones. The action implies a death march, a procession to death designed to avenge insults suffered by Montresor and his ancestors. The drinking of wine, the ringing of bells, and the lighting of candles are all part of Montresor’s “black mass”. Fortunado, the unwittingly victim, becomes the sacrifice in a wholly un-Christian ceremony.
Poe carefully selects language that resounds of sacramental rites. Montresor admits that when he first smiles at Fortunado’s arrival, it “was at the thought of his immolation.” (A Latin-derived word, immolation means to kill as a sacrifice and carries strong religious connotations.) Montresor’s language designates him as the executor of divine punishment or retribution. His motivation, which can be interpreted as a heavy-handed perversion of the Golden Rule, is clear: “[A wrong] is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.”
Poe often uses foreign expressions with religious overtones. As is common in Roman Catholic masses, Montresor utters Latin phrases: “In pace requiescat!”(Rest in peace) and “Nemo me impune lacessit.”(No one punishes me with impunity.) The wine that lures Fortunado to his death, Amontillado (which means from the mountain in Italian) recalls Moses’ trek up Mt. Sinai and the God-given laws that came to be as a result.
The primary action of the story recalls Jesus Christ’s procession to Calvary, the...
(The entire section is 822 words.)