In one of Edgar Allen Poe’s best-known tales of horror, “The Cask of Amontillado,” he suggests that pride can be a very dangerous thing. Through the use of foreshadowing, irony, and symbolism, Poe presents the compelling drama of two men. One who will stop at nothing to get the revenge that he deems himself and his family worthy of, and another who’s pride will ultimately be the catalyst for his death. Fortunato falls prey to Montressor’s plans because he is so proud of his connoisseurship of wine, and it is for the sake of his own pride that Montressor takes revenge on Fortunato.
In this essay, I will examine how Poe utilizes the theme of pride and many other literary techniques such as foreshadowing and irony, in order to create such a horrific and suspenseful masterpiece. In “The Cask of Amontillado,” Poe employs a sinister aspect of foreshadowing. First, when Fortunato says, “I shall not die of a cough” (1148), Montressor replies, “True-true” (1148). Instead, Montressor knows that Fortunato will perish from his vengeful scheme that consists of dehydration and starvation. Fortunato is a proud man and he does not think that his death with be due to something as petty as a cold.
Rather, he believes that his life will end as a result of some courageous act and he will die a noble death. However, Montressor can only laugh at this thought because he knows Fortunato’s death will be far from noble and his pride will be soon is shattered in the dark depths of the catacomb. Another instance of foreshadowing comes with the trowel scene. At one point in their journey, Fortunato makes a movement that is a secret sign of the Masons, an exclusive, fraternity-like organization. Montressor does not recognize this hand signal, but claims that he is a “mason” (1149).
When Fortunato asks for proof, Montressor shows him his trowel. The implication is that Montressor is a stonemason–that is, that he will be building things out of stones and mortar: namely Fortunato’s grave. Irony is also widely used throughout Poe’s great story. In fact, even the mode of revenge in this story shows irony. Montressor avenges himself by fooling his victim into literally walking into his own grave. Fortunato pursues the “cask” which ends up being his own casket. Montressor even asks Fortunato repeatedly whether he would like to turn back.
Fortunato refuses to leave the catacombs until he proves that he is a true connoisseur of wine and that he knows more about wine then Luchesi. He will not allow his pride to be hurt even if it means getting sicker or catching pneumonia. With Montressor’s method, he takes Fortunato completely by surprise and makes his death ironic. After all, Fortunato is the one eager to get to the end of the catacombs. Another instance of irony is Montressor’s statement to his friend that they should return because his Fortunato’s “health is precious” (1147).
This bit of conversation is ironic because Montressor does not really want to protect Fortunato’s health, but indeed to kill him. The short story, “The Cask of Amontillado,” contains many accounts of symbolism. First of all, the black silk mask and “roquelaire” (1147), or cape, which Montressor puts on before entering the catacombs, represents the devil or death. They represent and tell the reader what Montressor has planned. His “getting even” is evil and will mean death to Fortunato, who’s name, meaning fortunate, does not ring true.
The coat of arms of Montressor’s family is perhaps the best example of symbolism and foreshadowing in the whole story. Montressor’s description of it is “A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel” (1148). In this image, the foot is symbolic of Montressor and the serpent of Fortunato. Montressor is very proud but he feels that he was wronged and that Fortunato had insulted both him and his family, or so we are to believe. He says, “I must not only punish, but punish with impunity” (1146).
Although Fortunato has hurt Montressor, the coat of arms suggests that Montressor will ultimately crush him. It is his duty and obligation to right the wrongs done to his family, even if it means death. The motto of Montressor’s family is, “Nemo me impune lacessit” (1148), which means, “No one wounds me with impunity” (1148). Poe uses this image of the coat of arms to drive home his message of the dangers of pride and extend it to cover family pride. The cask of wine is yet another important example of the symbolism in Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.
During the carnival season, the narrator, Montressor, approaches Fortunato, telling him that he has acquired something that could pass for Amontillado (a light Spanish sherry). He tells Fortunato that since he was not around, a man named Luchresi tasted it. Fortunato is apparently competitive with Luchresi and claims that this man could not “tell Amontillado from Sherry” (1147). Fortunato is anxious to taste the wine and to determine for Montressor whether it is Amontillado or not. It is Fortunato, in his attempt to boost his pride and show off his wine-tasting abilities, which insists that they enter Montressor’s catacombs.
The cask of wine also serves as a warning to the reader, advising the reader to be wary of gifts from those whom you have wronged. The more unbelievable it is, the more it should not be believed. Amontillado should have been a very, very hard to find wine, and even harder to find during the carnival season. The dangers of pride are addressed in “The Cask of Amontillado,” a short story by Edgar Allen Poe. In this story, Poe uses the modalities of foreshadowing, irony, and symbolism to convey his message in a creative and original way.
He reminds us that pride can lead us to do unthinkable things that we would never otherwise consider doing such as killing in order to get revenge on someone who has hurt our pride. Our pride can also cause us to be naive and blind to things around us, leading us to dangerous situations and, in the most sever of cases, leading us to our own deaths. Fortunato did not live up to his namesake in this story and his pride ultimately drove him to his own death. And so, I leave you with this question, is your pride hurting you in anyway?