When doing anything in life there are so many alternative ways of looking at something with all of them being influenced by what you see in the world around you. A teacher may see things that contrast from a politician; a doctor as opposed to a writer. Even the differences from a man to a woman or what part of the country you grew up in can dilute one way of thinking from the next. That is why considering things in ways that you may not usually is important for understanding and critiquing certain situations and outcomes.
With this train of thought, we will take a look at Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado through five unique perspectives from different individuals. With each of these offering a better perception on what we know, and what we think we know. Biographical/Genetic Criticism: In an effort to better understand the story, one can look at it from a Genetic or Biographical point-of-view.
Much of Edgar Allan Poe’s own personal life experiences greatly influence this story as well as many of his other works. Poe’s choice of literary style was called gothic fiction.
It deals with the subjects of secrets, madness, darkness and death. This gothic style of writing is greatly influenced by disappointment and depression that followed Poe his entire life. This was caused by a number of unfortunate events in his life, including the untimely death of his birth mother and foster mother, a lifetime of poverty, and his foster father, John Allan, who disowned Poe over an argument about family matters. This argument with John Allen shows a possible reason for Montresor’s plot to murder Fortunato in The Cask of Amontillado. Montresor kills him due to his highly esteemed value of family honor.
In the story, Fortunato learns that Montresor’s family moto is “Nemo me impune lacessit”, which means “No one insults me with impunity”. Fortunato insulted Montresor greatly, as the reader learns from the first line in the story, and Montresor feels that he must uphold his family honor. In that same way, Poe and his foster father John Allan fought over Allan’s other children and insulted Allan. Allan disowned him as a result, showing his value of honor to family. Understanding this value of family honor can help the reader to better understand Montresor’s motivation. Ethical Criticism:
To look at it from an ethical standpoint, one must consider some of Poe’s other works. As already stated, Poe’s style of writing dealt with madness and death. The Raven is a story about a man depressed over the loss of his love, and the man goes mad over a raven that continually says to him ‘Nevermore. ’ The Tell-Tale Heart relates the story of a man who carefully and meticulously murders an elderly man who lives with him because he cannot stand the look of his false eye. Many of Edgar Allan Poe’s works involve death, madness, and murder. Knowing this can enable a reader to better grasp the tone in his story.
Our main character in “The Cask of Amontillado”, Montresor can be construed as a generally insane person or super evil mastermind. It is my understanding that he does not have justification for the deeds and the murder he is going to commit. How can he do this and not have a guilty conscience? How he can he feel nothing? Because he is a man with no remorse, no feelings, no guilt, he either ignores or lacks that little voice that tells someone that “what you’re doing is wrong”. He feels he has suffered at the taunting of Fortunato and his revenge is legitimate.
We know that Fortunato has wronged Montresor as a man of societal rank, with a slew of insults and this has been ongoing for quite some time. In Fortunato’s eyes he thinks he and Montresor are old friends and that he is in fact only joking with his friend while Montresor’s blood secretly boils with each comment or teasing that comes out of Fortunato. Montresor ultimately gets away with this heinous crime. It is completely justified in Montresor’s eyes, this perfect crime. No witnesses, no body, no motive, no worries, no questions, therefore no crime has or was committed and this is just how Montresor views it.
After all he buried the man alive, left him alive when he bricked up the wall in the crypt, in his insane mind he didn’t actually kill Fortunato at all. Readers Response Criticism: From a reader’s point of view, the most interesting aspect to this story, is the fact that Montresor carries out this unspeakable revenge without batting an eye, without guilt. He feels justified by what he has done because he feels he has endured “a thousand injuries at the hands of Fortunato. Having endured these injuries is his justification for what he plans to do to Fortunato.
I also considered that Poe dresses each character in a certain way reflects each characters undeniable position in this story. The character that commits the murder Montresor is dressed in “cloak” (roquelare) and a “mask of black silk” like an outlaw or perhaps for the implication of death himself while the other, Fortunato is dressed in a jester’s outfit which really shows his innocence and ignorance in this story. One is that of evil, dark, serious, and sinister while the other is falling for the most evident of tricks, he is lacking in knowledge, a jester, and a fool. Little did Fortunato know that the joke was on him.
Poe really captures each character and their true placement within this story. The fact that Montresor used Fortunato’s lust for fine wine, his ultimate weakness, as a tool to lure him to his doom was that of pure diabolical genius. Even throwing in the competition that is Luchesi to seal the deal and Fortunato’s fate by getting Fortunato to follow him deep into his family’s crypt to meet his unfortunate demise is that of a sick man but also that of a true genius and mastermind. Montresor is a highly intelligent but evil, soulless man that gets away with the perfect untraceable crime. Psychoanalytical Criticism:
Montresor takes us on a tale where he reveals that, 50 years ago, he had trapped his counterpart, Fortunato, in cave for all eternity. From his perspective he tells us that he “bore the best he could” of “a thousand” of Fortunato’s injuries. When we get this, we can see a man who feels that he has lived in the shadow of another for too long. Those ‘injuries’ were not physical, but in his eyes they were substantial enough for his death. Keeping in mind that Montresor is writing this a half century in the future, we can deduct that they cannot have been too much older than their mid-20’s.
Therefore, they likely have known one another since their childhood, so Montresor must have been feeling this for quite some time. Through this, the impression of a self-riotous man who feels he should have what Fortunato has is easy enough to infer. To compare to popular culture, the feeling of “Scar” from “The Lion King” is ever present; that feeling being a mildly innocent man, secretly carrying ulterior motives, until finally committing his awful atrocity. Fortunato is a character that is driven by his desire of wine and it ultimately puts him in a literal life or death circumstance.
From the likely bias perspective of Montresor, Fortunato is seen as a fool in many ways. However, one can presume that he is well-liked since Montresor seems not to be, even though he wishes he were. Throughout the story, Montresor’s compliments and careful wordplay are evident. He calls him “my dear Fortunato” and repeatedly calls him a friend. So it appears that he may have no knowledge that Montresor has any ill will towards him – until the end. To conclude, the struggle between Montressor and Fortunato may have all been psychologically in Montresor’s mind the entire time.
The envy of a man may have resulted in the demise of another, and simply the mannerisms of one Fortunato caused his fate. The true “injury” was not sustained to, or from, anyone. Only the damaged interworking of a young man’s mind was the true wound. Marxist Criticism: From the beginning the reader knows that the characters are of upper class and of Noble blood. But was Fortunato born into nobility as Montresor was? Let’s look at this from a Marxist approach. Not much is said of Fortunato’s past beside that he is wealthy and has earned the respect of many powerful people.
Fortunato may have been part of the middle class where he was fortunate enough to slither his way into nobility. Fortunato prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine. Here is where Fortunato adopted to suit the time and opportunity to practice imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires (Poe 1298). Could this be partially why Montresor defies Fortunato as he does? Could that be the biggest insult to Montresor, a middle class man making his way into the elite upper class? A place where no man of Fortunato’s stature belongs. Montresor fears that Fortunato has become more rich and power than he.
Montresor’s says “You are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed” (Poe 1300). The appearance of Fortunato costume at the Carnival signifies wealth. He is found wearing a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells (Poe 1298). There is another class distinction between the two. This time Fortunato sees himself above Montresor and reminds him when they are down walking in the catacombs. When Fortunato threw the bottle of wine upwards with gesticulation, and Fortunato asked Motresor if he knew what that signified, Montresor did not know.
Fortunato then said he is not part of the brotherhood, a mason. A mason is a very powerful, persuasive organization and one can only be sworn into. Fortunato also forgot what Motresor family arms looked like. Signifying that it wasn’t important enough to remember. Here lies a power struggle between two powerful individuals. Montresor is infuriated by Fortunato’s lack of respect of Montresor nobility. Montresor uses deceit and eloquence into steering Fortunato to his death. He acts as if he has Fortunato’s best interest while plotting to kill him. In the end, before Montresor places the last brick, he recognizes Fortunato as a noble man.