“No one provokes me with impunity” (Symons 315). These words began to take shape in Edgar Allan Poe’s life at a very early age (Silverman 1). Deep inside the mind of a madman, such as Poe, there is a world of loneliness, depression, hatred, and revenge. Each of these inner feelings is continuously reenacted throughout Poe’s stories and poem’s. “He deliberately dealt with the psychological themes of obsession and madness” (Regan 51). One of the strangest things about his writing is that he takes horror and combines it with intelligence to create a powerful piece of work.
The Cask of Amontillado” is a prime example of the madness that goes on inside his head. The symbolism used in this story is very reflective on Poe’s actual life. One thing is for sure; he will make you think twice about whether his stories were just out of the mind of a very intelligent man, or if they were just thoughts, jotted down in a form in which he could express his full ambitions in life. It makes you think about whether or not he would actually kill a man in a similar manner for a similar reason such as Montresor kills Fortunato (Symons 278-284).
One of the strangest things about “The Cask of Amontillado” is the symbolism that is used. On several occasions, you can see how something in the story could possibly represent his own feelings inside, due to the circumstances he was under. The code of arms is representative of so many things beyond the story. “Poe’s writing included what he called “undercurrents of meaning”” (Wilbur 99). On the surface, his works may not seem to be more than just a made up horror story, but it is beyond the surface that the true meaning lies.
His works are so intreging for the simple reason that you have to take what is given and break it down to the point that you can feel the same emotions that he felt when the work was composed (Wilbur 99). “Remarkable experiences are usually confined to the inner life of imaginative men, but Mr. Poe’s biography dislays a vicissitude and peculiarity of interest such as is rarely met with” (Lowell 7). Most people who have dealt with the problems that Poe dealt with are not able to express themselves in such a way. He possesed a unique talet to project his own experiences to another form in another world (Lowell 7).
In the story, Fortunato states that he had forgotten Montresor’s coat of arms. Montresor replied, “A huge human foot d’or, in a field of azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are embedded in the heel. ” Then Fortunato ask for the motto. Montresor replies, “Nemo me impune lacessit”” (Stepp 55). “This means no one provokes me with impunity” (Symons 315). Is it possible that this could have been Edgar Allan Poe’s secret motto of life? To truly see the picture of Poe’s life portrayed with this story, you must first understand the ironic double in the coat of arms.
Fortunato insults Montresor and Montresor secretly plots to kill him to get his revenge for the insult. The ironic double is shown by the explanation of the coat of arms. The foot might have represented Montresor crushing the serpent, Fortunato, which is sinking his fangs into the foot. The foot could also represent Fortunato stepping on the serpent and the serpent, Montresor, taking revenge by sinking his fangs into the foot. Either way, Montresor is taking revenge on Fortunato for the insult (Stepp 55-56). Through Poe’s hard times in life, he may have developed this insane approach to deal with the problems that plagued his life.
He could have easily created a mock scenario to represent any of his terrible situations in life where he has been mistreated and wronged in some way. He couldn’t act out these feelings in real life without being punished by society, so he created stories such as “The Cask of Amontillado” as a way to relieve himself of the pain and the anger that was inside him. The motto behind the coat of arms possibly represented Poe’s intentions at heart, but the impunity of the one provoking was lost through his words. Edgar’s father, David Poe, left his mother never to be seen again when Edgar was very young.
This in itself could have sparked some kind of anger and insanity even at this young age. Rumors began to set in that Poe’s younger sister Rosalie was not David Poe’s daughter, but instead, she was the result of another lover of Eliza (Silverman 7,9). It would possibly cause problems in any child to be caught up in the midst of all these devastating acts by his parents. This kind of behavior in his day was very uncommon. Society shunned people like Edgar’s parents, which also caused a lot of emotional damage to Edgar as well (Silverman 9). To top off the whole ordeal, his mother became very ill when Edgar was nearly three years old.
He was with her throughout her whole sickness and it is believed that he was even present at her death” (Silverman 8). Poe was left orphaned with the memory of his mother dying, as his last memory of her (Silverman 8). For a three-year-old child, any psychologist will tell you that this is just too much to bear. How could anyone help from becoming somewhat insane under these circumstances? I could not bear the thoughts of all of this happening at once even now, but to have to deal with the emotional stress at that young age would be nothing shy of devastating.
Though he may not consciously remember the situation, it still had an impounding affect on his life. Edgar’s father may have represented Fortunato. Edgar may feel that his father insulted him and his family by leaving him and his mother when he was such a young boy. Though Edgar could not take out his anger and his humiliation on his father personally, this story could have represented what was going through his head as he thought of how he would have loved to see his father suffer in the way that Fortunato did in his story.
His father may have been just one of many people who strongly offended Edgar to the point that he would write a story describing his revenge. Though life began to look up for a few years later, the tragedy of his earlier years continued to haunt him in other ways, as he grew older. The Allan’s were very kind to Edgar’s mother as she was ill, and they took in Edgar after her passing. At this point, he was separated from his sister Rosalie. She went to live with another family that cared for Eliza. The Allan’s were a moderately well to do family. Mr. Allan started a merchandising chain with a friend, Charles Ellis.
The Allan’s never adopted Edgar, though he did have his security that was never felt at home (Knapp 12). When the wars were over in 1815, the family moved to London to open an office and expand their business. “Edgar was sent to the Misses Dubourg’s Boarding School” (Knapp 13). He did very well there and when he was done, he was enrolled in Manor School. Poe became the head of his class at age nine (Knapp 13). The business became less profitable and the Allan family had to move back to Richmond. It was the return that really scared Poe. “He later wrote “MS.
Found in a Bottle” and “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” to show his fear of this journey” (Knapp 13). This example alone shows that his writings were based off of real life events that are taken into his mind, twisted, and spit back out in the form of a story (Knapp 13). Upon the return to Richmond, Poe enrolled in Joseph H. Clarke School. This is where his writing began. Poe transferred to Burke’s Academy where he became associated with the high-class people of Richmond. It was here that Poe began to realize that he was not of high class and he grew bitter and angry inside.
Although he was very intelligent and performed very well at school, his classmates would take advantage of him” (Knapp 14). On the outside, he remained calm and restrained, but on the inside the pain and the heartache began to burn a hole through his soul (Knapp 14). Poe had one friend that he could trust in, Robert Stanard. He often invited Poe to his home. Poe became even closer with Robert’s mother, Mrs. Helen Stanard. This woman inspired one of his most famous poems, “To Helen”. She would listen to his problems and comfort him as if he was her own. Poe thought of her as the mother that he never had (Knapp 15).
He loved her very dearly, but as it always seemed in Poe’s life, everything that he found comfort or joy in was ripped away bringing step by step closer to insanity. “Helen died of a brain tumor on April 28, 1824” (Knapp 15). With all the hurt, the disgust, and sorrow in Poe’s life, it must have seemed that his writings were all that he had to keep him going. I believe that if it had not been for his writings, he would not have made it past this point. It would be hard for any human being to go on with life in a normal fashion with the things he had seen in his life.
His writings let him express himself in ways that he would have never been allowed to otherwise. All of these things going on in his childhood spawned the man that Poe was known to be. His experiences brought about the motto that is mentioned in “The Cask of Amontillado”. By this time he is almost to the point that he just couldn’t take it anymore. His fantasy was slowly evolving into wanting to see the ones who caused his pain suffering. The next part of Poe’s devastating life came to be when he met his first love, Sarah Elmira Royster.
During his engagement with her, he began to attend the University of Virginia. Allan slowly began to cut off funds to Poe. Poe had nothing. He began to gamble to try to earn money for school. During this time, he began to drink. This is where the next set of problems began (Knapp 16-17). Poe continuously wrote to Sarah, but never received replies. He later found out that her father had intercepted the letters due to the fact that he did not want his daughter of upper standings to marry a poor drunk who couldn’t afford to pay his own way.
He also learned that she was soon getting married to another man of whom her father approved of. To top all of that off Poe had just got kicked out of the University of Virginia because of his depts, drinking, and gambling. (Knapp 17-18). Now there are at least two other men who can be associated with Fortunato in Poe’s mind. Allan stopped supporting him, which caused Sarah’s father to disapprove of their marriage. Poe ‘s life was miserable. It is one thing to loose someone you love as a father figure, but another to loose the love of your life.
Poe must have become very angry with Sarah’s father over this issue, because not only could she have brought something good to his life emotionally, he wouldn’t have to worry about being poor for the rest of his life. He probably blamed his school situation on these two men as well, even though the decisions that he made were poor. This would give Poe ample reason to write on either of the two men. The next stage in Poe’s life was when he enlisted in the military. Soon after his enlistment, he became dissatisfied with his position. He learned that Mrs. Allan was sick and that she would die soon.
Poe requested that Mr. Allan send him a letter to be released from the military. When the letter came, it was too late. He arrived the day after the funeral. He was devastated (Knapp 19-20). Poe then decided to attend West Point. He needed many letters of recommendation, but the most important of these letters was to be from Mr. Allan. While he was waiting, he went to Baltimore to visit his father’s side of the family. His grandmother was extremely ill and she lived with his aunt, Clemm and her daughter, Virginia. They were very poor and they did whatever they could to get by.
The living conditions depressed Poe, but nothing could match the feelings of being loved and cared for, regardless of the living conditions (Knapp 20-21). Poe got into West Point, and continuously asked Allan for money. Allan’s response was that he never wanted to see him again. Poe then requested a letter from Allan wanting to resign from West Point. “He stated that if he didn’t get the letter, he would discharge himself, dishonorably” (Knapp 21). This was another one of his great mistakes that cost him. He then moved back home with his family and continued his writings.
His grandmother was soon plagued with sickness. She died soon after his arrival. This meant that they were not even getting her pension anymore (Knapp 21, 24). “In 1834, Poe learned that Allan was sick. Poe came to his home, unwelcome, and burst into Allan’s room. Allan then shook his cane at Poe. Poe left without a word spoken. Worst of all was Allan’s will. Allan did not mention Poe in the will at all” (LeVert 62-63). One would think that Poe never even existed from reading this will. “He cared for his immediate family and his illegitimate children, but Poe’s name was not even mentioned” (LeVert 63).
By this time in Poe’s life, it is obvious to everyone that he just does not have any luck on his side. Poe lived the life that no one wanted to live. It is too much to bear to even think of half of the misfortune that had plagued Poe by this time. He only wanted his foster-father’s support with his work, but instead, Allan shunned Poe even after he was dead and gone. That was just par for the course (LeVert 63). Slowly everything that was going on around Poe was eating away at him. Poe knew by this time that there was nothing that he could physically do to resolve his problems, but to drink.
This perhaps even darkened his outlook on life more. Poe’s life began to look up for a short period of time, while he was writing criticism for the “Messenger”. Poe lost his job once at this place due to drinking (LeVert 65). He promised to never drink again to get his job back, but his job was lost for a second time, again due to his drinking. He tried to move to New York to become famous with his writings but he was not successful (LeVert 68-69). Poe then moved to Philadelphia, hoping for another shot at selling his stories. There he tried to start his own magazine to publish his works.
Six months went by and the magazine just was not working out (LeVert 76). He then began work for the magazine named “Burton’s”. Poe had before worked at this magazine and was now making more money than ever (LeVert 79). As with all of the good things in Poe’s life, comes misfortune. Poe soon learned of his wife’s illness. Virginia began to cough up blood while she was singing one day. This meant that she was in the fatal stage of her disease. Her health was fading fast (LeVert 83). After Virginia’s death, Poe felt that he needed to find love from someone.
When he moved back to Richmond for the final time, he met his first love Sarah Elmira Shelton. She was now a wealthy widow. He became engaged to her. Shortly after, he died of unknown causes in a Baltimore tavern (LeVert 103-104). “The Cask of Amontillado” wasn’t published until 1846 (Symons 315). This was the same time period that both Edgar and Virginia were terminally ill (LeVert 94). All of the problems that had built up throughout his life had the opportunity to be voiced through this simple short story. He had every right to want to believe in the motto entioned by Montresor in the story.
This story could have allowed own personal feelings of revenge to those who provoked him be released. Another theory behind the coat of arms mentioned in the story is that all of the people throughout his life that caused him to feel pain of any kind could represent Fortunato. It could equal an entire group of people that caused Poe’s anger. “Poe wasn’t the type of person to voice his opinion and act out when someone offended him. He seemed to always remain calm” (Knapp 14). Poe might have intended for the story to show the misfortune of his own self.
Poe may have possibly thought of himself as Fortunato. He may have considered himself provocative, though his insults in life were not intended to cause any harm to anyone. He may hold himself solely responsible for the way the world treated him. The coat of arms in “The Cask of Amontillado” represented far more than what is shown in that individual story. Even if it is not directly clear what aspect that it applied to, it did indeed apply to a part of his life or multiple parts of his life. Poe will be remembered as a genus writer.
It was stories such as this that really bring out the true mystery behind the man and the man behind the mystery. Poe’s writtings were a way that he could cope with his problems. He could send his horrible experiences into a world only known to the author himself. “This form of releasing his anger made him feel god-like” (Sanford 298). Poe seemed to be a man defeated by society in his time. The truth is that he left his mark on the world. His writings were unlike any other author of his day, and they still have to power to captivate the soul of anyone who dares to read (Barbour 81).