Monday, 20 June 2011

Irony in "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe

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Irony is a form of expression, through words or events, which suggest a reality different from and usually contradictory of what is really expected. Writers sometimes say the opposite of what they mean (sarcasm), reverse expectations and end results, or give the reader more information than the characters possess, allowing statements made by the character to only be understood by the reader. These three types of irony are verbal, situation, and dramatic irony, respectively. “The Cask of Amontillado”, written by Edgar Allan Poe, demonstrates irony in a number of different situations.

Among the many ironies within “The Cask of Amontillado”, there are four, which prove to be quite significant. The first one becomes apparent in the opening lines,

“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat.”

Montresor, who is the narrator of the story, is speaking these words to an unnamed listener. The irony of this is that while on his deathbed, Montresor, who should be repenting, only reveals that he is not sorry for the crime committed at all. In reality, he prides himself on his cunning disposal of Fortunato. There is no possibility that Montresor will be absolved of this sin, therefore he will be the one who suffers in a dark confinement --- in Hell.

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A second example of irony involves the name Fortunato. It is obvious that Poe used this as a play on the words “the fortunate one”. This makes the reader question how a man who gets buried alive, trapped in Montresor’s wine cellar, could be called “the fortune one”. The ironic part of this is that Fortunato is indeed the perfect name for this character. Fortunato is completely forgiven for his sins and will ascend into Heaven, while Montresor, tarnished by his immoral assassination, will suffer in Hell, which of course reminds the reader of the dark confinement where Fortunato is buried alive.

It is in the dialogue between Montresor and Fortunato that the third ironic situation is clear.

“Come,” I said, with decision, “we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchresi-----”

“Enough,” he said; “the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.”

“True�true,” I replied; “and indeed, I had no intention of alarming you unnecessarily�but you should use all proper caution.”

The irony in this is that Fortunato is talking about something that is completely true, the problem is, he has no idea. Only Montresor and the reader are aware of Montresor’s scheming death trap for Fortunato.

A final ironic circumstance involves a discussion between Montresor and Fortunato regarding Montresor’s coat-of-arms.

“The Montresors,” I replied, “were a great and numerous family.”

“I forget your arms.”

“A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.”

“And the motto?”

“Nemo me impune lacessit.”

“Good!” he said.

After reading this unique conversation in the story, it is common that the reader may assume that Fortunato is depicted as the foot, which is crushing the snake. The irony is that the coat-of-arms provides the reader with a different interpretation, where Fortunato is the snake that is being crushed, which provides a fatal biting of the heel that crushes it (Montresor). In simpler terms, Montresor is punished for his wrongdoing and will pay for his sins in Hell. When Fortunato replies, “Good!” upon learning the motto � “Nemo me impune lacessit” or “no one harms me unpunished”, he is confirming that the motto works to his benefit as well.

Edger Allan Poe uses irony to enhance specific points in his stories. This literary technique may help a reader to better understand a situation or event, provide the reader with a small amount of humor, or demonstrate a larger truth within prose. The irony that is used in “The Cask of Amontillado” is imperative to the story. Without it, the story wouldn’t be as interesting and it may prevent the reader from becoming more involved with the characters and plot.

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