Edgar Allan Poe is noted as one of the most controversial authors. He was rejected by many and his works like his life are captivating, horrifying, and deal with love, death, terror, revenge and often brand evil. He had a love for the arts, alcohol and women. Death surrounded much of Poe’s early years and it is no wonder that many of his works deal with death and dying. His writings did not deal with the supernatural world of vampires or ghosts but dealt with the evil from within our souls that resides in each one of us.
As in the story “The Cask of Amontillado” which focuses on revenge and pride which results n murder establishes the perfect backdrop for the perfect murder. Poe demonstrates how a person’s inner demons can lead to the prevention of normal perception using symbolic language, complicated characters and an elaborate plot. In “The Cask of Amontillado” Poe uses the theme of pride, irony and symbolism to portray how alarming and depraved the human mind can be.
Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809 in Boston to Elizabeth Arnold Poe and David Poe, Jr. His parents were traveling performers for the theater. Poe was the middle child with an older brother Henry and a younger sister Rosalie. When Poe was around 3 his father whom was, an alcoholic abandoned the family. Later that same year, his mother became sick and was diagnosed with TB, causing her to be unable to perform, which pushed the family deeper into poverty. Elizabeth died about two months later leaving her kids to be considered orphans. The siblings were all separated and “Edgar was taken in by Frances Allan, one of the women who had helped his mother as she lay dying.
The boy was not formally adopted into their family, but he was baptized with their name: Edgar Allan Poe” (Lange 10). His time with the Allan’s was enjoyable. “Ma” and “Pa” as Poe refereed to them treated the boy with kindness and praises and spoiled the young boy. Then when Poe was 6 John Allan his foster dad moved him and the family to England where they lived for five years. While in England Poe attended a boarding school in London called the Manor House School. The time spent here provided him with a firm foundation for his career as a writer.
While back in Richmond at the age of 15 a woman named Jane Stanard whom Poe had a crush on died. He then fell in love with Sarah Elmira Royster who lived down the road from the Allan’s. They wanted to marry but her father refused to grant Poe permission because he had no education nor money of his own. He then headed to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He enjoyed his studies and ranked high among his peers in his classes but he began to gamble for money for school and necessities and shortly fell deep into debt. He left the University and shortly after joined the Military and climbed through the ranks quickly.
By this time his relationship with his foster father was becoming strained. He wanted to join West Point but he needed his father’s permission to leave. His foster om whom was sick begged John Allan on her death bed to grant him permission. “Allan kept his word. When Frances died on February 28, 1829, he helped Poe arrange for a leave and sent him money for the trip home to Richmond. Poe arrived the day after the burial, distraught with grief over his foster mother’s death but hopeful that he and John Allan would finally be able to put their differences behind them” (Loewen 36).
Once again, he endured the death of yet another woman in his life that he was close to. While waiting to get into West Point he made great use of his time in Baltimore where he finally met his eal fathers’ family and published his second volume of poems, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. While at West Point Poe realized, a Military career was not for him and he purposely did not go to classes or do his duties and was eventually kicked out. Him and John Allan never reconciled after this.
In 1831 after leaving West Point he headed for New York where he published his 3rd book of poetry, Poems by Edgar A. Poe, Second Edition which contains some of his best-known works such as “To Helen,” “Israfel,” and “The City in the Sea. ” Poe was still broke and did not make much money from his poetry. He hen moved to Baltimore to live with relatives and while there his brother died. The only income the family had was a pension that his grandmother was receiving. He remained in Baltimore until 1835. “In the summer of 1835, Poe was offered a position as an assistant editor at the Southern Literary Messenger. He took the job, even though it meant moving back to Richmond.
While in Richmond he made a name for himself particularly with his reviews of others work but he was lonely and began drinking and even struggled more to make ends meet. By 1836 his grandmother had died also and he soon married his cousin Virginia who was only 13 years old, Poe was 27. In 1842 Virginia got TB Poe wrote:” Her life was despaired of. I took leave of her forever and underwent all the agonies of her death. She recovered partially and again I hoped. At the end of a year the vessel broke again… Then again-again-again and even once again..
I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute consciousness I drank, God only knows how often or how much” (Loewen 48). He became established as an American Writer after his publication of “The Raven” in 1845. None of his publications brought in much oney and exhausted from his failed ventures he drank even more. In 1847 Virginia died. He entered a downward spiral which he never fully recovered from. He began to seek the companionship of women even professing his love to multiple women at the same time.
He became engaged to Sarah Whitman but it was soon called off because of his drinking and his proclaiming of his love for Annie Richmond. Poe then tried to kill himself before returning to Richmond in the summer of 1849. Upon his return to Richmond he met up with Sarah Royster once again who was now widowed and they soon became engaged. H had joined the Sons of Temperance and vowed to never drink again upon the engagement. He left for Baltimore on September 26, 1849 and kissed Sarah goodbye he did have a fever. “What happened next is unclear. For 5 days, Poe’s exact whereabouts are unknown.
Maybe he started drinking again. He was found October 3 in Baltimore, at a tavern being used as a polling place in local elections. He was incoherent, dirty, and dressed in someone else’s cheap clothes (presumably, somebody stole his more expensive wool suit). A friend took him to a hospital, where he lingered for 4 days. Then early on October 7, 1849 he died. He was 40 years old. His final words: ““Lord help my poor soul” (Lange 53). The Gothic tale by Poe “The Cask of Amontillado” deals with a psychological perspective unlike other stories that were written in this time.
Most stories in this era dealt with things like ghost, vampires or werewolves. His characters were usually well educated men who displayed signs of mental instability. Poe thought that rational men could have immoral thoughts and commit immoral acts. In this story Poe presents the unreliable narrator. “We might read “The Cask of Amontillado” not as a confession, but ather as self-defense, an attempt to provide a rational account of apparently irrational events and behavior” (Cleman 70).
Charles May notes in this regard, “Even if our hypothesis that Montressor tells the story as a final confession.. s correct, the tone or manner of his telling makes it clear that he has not atoned, for he enjoys himself in the telling too much-as much, in fact, as he did when he committed the crime itself” (May 81). This is a valid point that I had never considered when reading the story but I am not sure I agree with him. Nowhere in the story does it claim he told anyone other than his telling now ome 50 years later about the crime. He makes sure his house is free from all workers and servants during the festivities and he mask himself.
I must agree with G. R Thompson that the narration is a confession that Montressor is making on his death bed due to his troubled conscience. Whereas in “The Cask of Amontillado” we know the motive is revenge but we question what insults are so bad that would justify murder? We first see pride displayed by Montresor in the very beginning of the story. We come to see that Montresor is so prideful that he would seek revenge over what we assume to be insults to either him ersonally or to the family name. He talks about injuries but never elaborates as to what kind.
Are they physical injuries or injuries to one’s pride? The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. I must not only punish but punish with impunity” (Mays 108). I could never imagine someone insulting my family or my name to the point of bestowing death upon them, but during this time your name did mean everything. Montresor believes that if he believes that his pride has been injured, that he will not forgive nor forget. This belief leads to he downfall of his moral compass as he seeks revenge in the form of murder upon Fortunato. to his death which Montresor has skillfully planned.
Montresor knew that Fortunato had a weakness for the spirits and he used this against him to lure him to his death. “He had a weak point- this Fortunato-He prided himself upon his connoisseurship in wine” (Mays 108). Montresor knows that he will not turn down Fortunato’s pride leads him the invite for a chance to drink Amontillado. He uses the imaginary Cask to lure him into the catacombs. He knows by telling Fortunato that he was going to see Luchesi that this will nly make Fortunato even more eager to follow him to carry out his plan for revenge.
The Cask of Amontillado” is filled with irony. Poe uses both verbal and dramatic irony in this short story. These two types are combined when the journey into the catacombs begins. Fortunato coughs and Montresor pretends to be concerned and request that they turn back. To which Fortunato responds “Enough,” he said; “the cough is mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough” (Mays 110). Montresor knows that the cough will not kill him because his fate is sealed by death within the catacombs not from the cough. He will rest forever within the tomb.
Irony is formed also in the very last words of the story. “In pace requiescat” (Mays 113)! He wishes peace upon Fortunato but Montresor still fifty years later is telling his story. He appears to be the one who hasn’t rested in much peace. It makes you wonder if his revenge has plagued him the last fifty years? Symbolism is something Poe uses often in many of his works. As in “The Cask of Amontillado” it is seen with the name of Fortunato. In Italian, it means “the lucky one. ” He does not fair so lucky in this story as he falls victim to Montresor’s vengeance.
He becomes anything but fortunate as his death is centered around revenge and being buried alive in a tomb. Never to be found and given a proper burial. Another use of symbolism within the story is Fortunato’s costume. He is dressed like a jester which is representative of a fool. “The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells” (Mays 108). This symbolizes the fool that he is for believing Montresor has a cask of Amontillado and following him willingly into the catacomb to his death.
The jingling of the bell from the conical cap is the last sound Montresor hears as he carefully places the last brick in Fortunato’s tomb. Making the ending flawless for a great revenge story. Edgar Allan Poe is considered one of America’s most popular and controversial writers. He was rejected by many for generations. He would grab readers and pull them into his stories and pushed the limits of sanity. He endured a lot of death in his short life which many believe set the back drop for many of his stories, along with poverty, debt, sickness and struggles with alcohol and unhappiness.
It wasn’t until after his death that he was truly given the credit he deserved. Some 200 years later his works live on and students of all ages learn how he so gracefully used irony, symbolism, figurative language, and the complication of the human mind to produce great works. In the short story “The Cask of Amontillado” Poe uses the theme of pride, irony and symbolism to portray how alarming and depraved the human mind can be. “From every depth of good and ill The mystery which binds me still… From the thunder and the storm-And the cloud that took the form (when the rest of Heaven was blue) of a demon in my view” (Poe).