Edgar Allan Poe is a 19th century American writer, he mostly uses gothic elements in his literary works. One of his literary work which includes gothic elements is “The Cask of Amontillado”. “The Cask of Amontillado” is about a man, Montresor, who wants to take revenge from one of his friends, Fortunato, because Fortunato insults Montresor and at the end of the story, Montresor kills Fortunato due to this insult that is not explained to the reader. The definition of gothic is “of or relating to a style of fiction characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious, or violent incidents” (Merriam-Webster). In the story, Poe uses gothic elements to emphasize the revenge and violence theme which the story includes. In this essay, I will analyse gothic elements from the perspective of setting madness and horror in “The Cask of Amontillado”.
Firstly, Poe emphasizes gothic elements with using setting elements, in the story. In the first place, the situation happens during “the carnival season” (3). Carnivals bring happiness to people, but the protagonist decides to kill someone during “the carnival season” (3). Also, because people go to the carnival, there are not any other people except Fortunato and Montresor in the story. Poe accentuates with this idea that; “the carnival season” (3), is a good time to find streets quiet, because other people go to the carnival and they cannot suspect the protagonist to kill someone. Furthermore, Fortunato is portrayed just like a clown. To emphasize his clothes Poe writes that; “a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells.” (3-4). Fortunato is depicted in a clown costume with “a tight-fitting parti-striped dress,” (3). Moreover, the narrator writes, “…, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells.” (4) and “… the bells upon his cap jingled…” (5) to complete Fortunato’s costume which is a costume for a clown. Clown costume implies that, Fortunato insults to Montresor. It is also, a gothic element, because clowns refer to a serial killer in some cases such as; Joker in “The Batman” and “Pennywise the Dancing Clown” from “It” which is one of the Stephen King’s books. Also, the narrator punctuates with; “The gait of my friend was unsteady, and the bells upon his cap jingled as he strode.” (5) to give a clue to the reader that bad things will happen, in the story. Because “…bells the jingle…” (5) is a messenger to bad situations, also it is a warning for Fortunato. In addition, Montresor wears a mask, “a mask of black silk” (5). In the story, Poe points out, “a mask of black silk” (5) hides Montresor’s facial expressions from Fortunato. In the story, when Montresor thinks about to kill Fortunato, he smiles, and Fortunato does not see Montresor’s smile because of this mask and Fortunato does not have a suspicion about Montresor’s plan to kill him.
Poe emphasizes another setting element while he is using gothic elements, in the story. This setting element is description of crypt. In the first place, there are “…white web-work…” (5) and “…catacombs…” (5). Poe symbolises with these items that, a prison for Fortunato, so the narrator gives the reader a clue about how the story will end and how the murderer kills his victim. However, “… white web-work…” (5), refer to dirtiness, too. That means, no one go there a while. Furthermore, the reader can understand, even Montresor does not go the crypt for so long, so he cannot put the “Amontillado” (3) there. That means, he will not show “Amontillado” (3) to Fortunato and it is a trap for him. In addition, ““Nitre,”” (5), emphasizes one of the gothic elements in the story because Montresor finds out Fortunato is sick, and he uses ““Nitre,”” (5) to kill him easily. Also, Poe features “…wine…” (6) as a drink, because it is similar colour with blood. That refers to death theme in the story. Moreover, Montresor mentions; ““We are below the river’s bed.”” (7). River stands for river of death, Styx, in Greek mythology. It also gives a clue for the reader about the end of the story and Fortunato’s future. Finally, “…through walls of piled bones…” (6), in this sentence, “…bones…” (6) refers to death theme in the story, because Montresor takes away Fortunato to his family graveyard, that means it supports the death theme. Also, it supports the idea of Montresor leading the way to Fortunato to his death. Poe emphasizes these setting elements while using gothic elements in the story.
Secondly, Poe emphasizes gothic elements with using madness factor, in the story. The first madness factor is suspense. The reader cannot know whether the event happens or not because the protagonist is unstable. To support that idea; Belino writes, “… the cask of amontillado that titles the short story never actually existed; it was a mere illusion built up in order to convince Fortunato to go to the Palazzo.” (Belino, 233). The reader can easily mention that at the end of the story. While Montresor builds a wall to capture Fortunato, Fortunato tells him; ““Let us be gone”” (10) and ““…Will not they be awaiting us at the palazzo, the Lady Fortunato and the rest? …”” (10). Fortunato calls Montresor and him as one and when Montresor captures him, he behaves like both are captured by Montresor himself. The second madness element in the story is Montresor’s obsession. In the story, Montresor is too obsessed to take revenge on Fortunato and he decides to kill him. Also, the story begins to describe how Montresor hates Fortunato and he plans to kill him. However, he does not mention what exactly Fortunato insults him about. If that insult is too much important to Montresor, he will mention it. That means, it is not too much important to kill someone or one of your old friends. Poe maintains with these, the obsession of Montresor which takes place in the story.
The final gothic element which is used in the story is horror. Firstly, Montresor plans to kill Fortunato. In the beginning of the story, Poe claims that Montresor wants to take revenge on Fortunato, and he decides that the best way to take his revenge is; killing one of his friends because his friend Fortunato just insults him. While Montresor is planning the murder, he thinks about every detail such as; Fortunato’s illness, Fortunato’s weaknesses, the time of the murder, to send his servants to the carnival to not have a witness, and the place of the murder. He decides everything and acts like he worries about Fortunato because of his illness, and he behaves like they meet on the street as a coincidence. In that case, Fortunato does not have any suspicions about Montresor’s plan which is about killing Fortunato. Furthermore, Montresor acts like he thinks about his illness and he worries about him and says to Fortunato that he should go his home because the crypt is damp, and that dampness is bad for Fortunato’s health. However, Fortunato is too excited because he will taste “Amontillado” (3), and he refuses his offerings to leave the place. Also, Montresor wears “mask of black silk” (5) to cover his face, so Fortunato does not recognize Montresor’s facial expressions, such as smiling when Montresor thinks about killing Fortunato or how well Montresor’s plan is going. Also, Montresor behaves like he has experienced to kill someone, in his past. In the story, Montresor plans everything such as a calmness of a serial killer, but Poe does not mention Montresor has killed anyone in his past. Montresor is too calm to a person who will kill someone after a while. Secondly, the way Montresor kills Fortunato is a horror element in the story. Montresor tricks Fortunato there is an “Amontillado” (3) at the depth of the crypt. He gives Fortunato wine because he wants to get Fortunato drunk, but instead of saying this he acts like he suggests drinking this wine because he thinks Fortunato’s health. Montresor makes Fortunato believes that “…wine…” (6) is good for his coughing and his health. When they come to the depth of the crypt, Montresor chains up Fortunato and starts to build a wall to capture him. That murder plan shows the reader that the vindictiveness of Montresor. He is angry to Fortunato because Fortunato insults him. Moreover, Montresor decides to kill his friend gingerly. He is calm and vindictive person. In addition, Montresor does not stab Fortunato because he decides that this murder is not enough to calm him for Fortunato’s behaviours in the past. Also, Montresor wants to watch his victim, Fortunato, while his victim is dying. Finally, while Montresor is putting on a wall to kill Fortunato to capture him, Fortunato laughs and says that ““Ha! ha! ha! – he! he! – a very good joke indeed-an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo-he! he! he! – over our wine- he! he! he!”” (10). That is a horror element in the story because Fortunato is laughing while he is dying. People do not laugh while they are dying; they will cry to not die, beg to the murderer to release them. However, Fortunato says only ““Let us be gone.”” (10) and he does not beg as a normal person.
In conclusion, Poe uses gothic elements in this short story to show the reader violence and death theme in the story. In this essay, I analysed, these gothic elements one by one. I think that, gothic elements complete the gaps in the story. The reader can understand how much Montresor hates Fortunato and how much he wants to get revenge on him.
- Belino, Miles Juliana. «The Influence of Gothic Literature In Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Cask of Amontillado’.» Cosmic Fear (2017): 233.