In “The Cask of Amontillado” Poe uses the first person where the narrator is the protagonist who is deeply involved. We are no longer just observers; we see with Montresor’s eyes, hear with his ears, react as he reacts. In the short story, identification with the main character is imperative. Why has Poe used the first person in this fashion? My students need to think about this care fully, for it will lead them to some important discoveries about purpose, subject, and form, as well as about point of view.
This story is about murder yet the subject is not murder but revenge. It is a study of emotions, one that invites response. Considering this intent, Poe’s use of the first person becomes clearer. Without it the unity of effect he desired would have been impossible. It is not the murder Poe wants us to witness, but Montresor’s emotions as he commits it. It is Fortunate as Montresor sees him that Poe wants us to see, not our own view of him. It will be helpful if students can select passages which, while revealing some action that propels the story forward, reveal more deeply Montresor’s state of mind. Perhaps the first person stresses Montresor’s unreliability as a narrator?
The plot, as such, might be summed up briefly: the invitation/ the walk/ and the murder. With every step that Portunato takes, Montresor’s elation increases. When Fortunate screams, Montresor savors every note. The last sentence is necessary, both subjects are satisfactorily completed: the act of murder, and revenge with impunity.
Poe’ s stories generally achieve an enviable unity of effect. From the very first sentence which sets the theme, defines the conflict, and creates the mood“The thousand and one injuries of Fortunate I had borne as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge”-the reader is allowed no rest.
Poe believed in a preconceived design for a story; plot, setting, characters, every word, every action, direct or indirect, must fit into that design. The dank catacombs of “The Cask of Amontillado” complement the dark doings, certainly, but the setting lends unity to the total effect in an even more subtle fashion. The contrast in Montresor’s character, are reflected in the mad gaiety of the carnival set against the gloomy catacombs.
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