Gothicism or dark romanticism is a very significant part of America’s history known as the Gothic era. The uniqueness of this subgenre of American romanticism is the fact that instead of picking out the starring character as one capable of only good deeds and filled with grace, they introduce characters who are more prone to self-destruction through sin. These characters fail in their attempts to do good or positive changes in their lives. In the story, the Cask of Amontillado, the same could be said for it. We can clearly say it is an American Romantic short story, but there is evidence that it could be more than that. Montresor’s capacity to end the life of Fortunato because of a mere insult accentuates the ability he possesses to commit evil which is characteristic of the dark Romantic Movement. The essence of this essay is to investigate the validity of the above thesis by seeking evidence from the story by Edgar Poe.
The Theme of Revenge in the Cask of Amontillado
Montresor’s elevation of his feelings and emotions of revenge because of mere insults from Fortunato is a show sign of instability- a trait of a dark Romantic character. The fact that he is willing to kill just because of an insult shows emotional and mental instability on the part of Montresor.
A thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge (Poe 1).
The above quote clearly shows that he wants revenge, but not for the injuries. He wants revenge for the insults. He uses the word venture which literally implies the undertaking of action while knowing the risks involved. By this, he means that Fortunato knew the risks but still chose to insult him anyway. A wrong, according to Montresor, never ends until justice is done.
A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser (Poe 1).
Redressing is the correction of a fault or error. From the above quote, Montresor implies the never-ending cycle of betrayal and revenge in that whenever there is an occurrence, it never ends until one of them dies or there is some agreement between the parties. Through this exaltation of emotion, Montresor promotes individualism which is an aspect of Dark Romanticism.
Evil in the Cask of Amontillado
Montresor displays a great capacity for evil owing to his acts of instability and murder. Montresor has no room for forgiveness in his life.
Nemo me impune lacessit (Poe 10).
The quote above translates into no one injuring me with impunity. The fact that the story starts with Montresor claiming injuries and insults from Fortunato, at first, makes us think that he may be speaking of doing the same to him. After all, tit for tat is what we expect. However, Montresor takes it up a notch when he decides to wall up his victim in the vault. It is impossible to believe that he actually could commit this type of evil. Even as Montresor meets up with Fortunato, there is little that showed he was going to kill his enemy. Poe used pervasive irony to bring the aspect of evil out greatly.
It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend (Poe 6).
Montresor refers to him as a friend instead of foe blinding not only Fortunato but even us as the readers from his real intentions. Montresor has an immense capacity for evil. He was able to convince his friend so much so that he kills him while he thinks it is a joke.
Good in the Cask of Amontillado
Montresor displays a high proclivity to commit sin because of his emotional and mental instability. This part tests if there is any good in mankind so that the representative of mankind is Montresor, who is the antagonist in the story.
Come, I said, with the decision, we will go back, your health is precious (Poe 8).
The above quote brings us to think that there is goodness in Montresor. Here, Montresor is giving Fortunato a chance to turn back and go back to his life. It begs us to wonder the events that could have transpired should Fortunato have decided to go back. Would Montresor have taken him hostage and forced him in?
In pace requiescat (Poe 10)!
This quote translates to rest in peace and it is the last thing that Montresor wished his friend after burying him alive. The quote shows us the potential that he had for good. But still, he fell prey to his evil side and named himself judge, jury, and executioner.
The Cask of Amontillado Symbolism: Self-Destruction
The predilection for self-destruction that the narrator shows is a cause for concern. In the case of an accusation, there should be evidence to prove the accused is guilty before the sentence is carried out.
It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself feel as such to him who has done the wrong (Poe 1).
Montresor never actually says the crimes that Fortunato committed. He is vague in that he says that Fortunato injured him and insulted him and should be punished. He decides to take revenge on Fortunato so that he can satisfy himself. The narration could also be found at fault because it is fifty years later rendering it an unsatisfactory source of proof for Fortunatos crimes. The aspect of self-destruction comes in where he is justifying his act of revenge and murder. It is interesting that from the very first point Fortunato is unable to realize Montresors endgame. It is probable he thought it was some game:
Ha! Ha! Ha! He! He! A very good joke indeed an excellent jest. We shall have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo He! He! He! over our winehe! He! He! (Poe 10).
The fact that Fortunato is unaware of his impending death also implies that perhaps he never thought that Montresor would go to that extent. To his death, he still thought it was a joke.
Guilt in the Cask of Amontillado
The story seems like a confession of some sort that implies that the narrator must have felt guilty at some point. Perhaps, he was nearing death which made him seek some retribution.
In pace requiescat!
The translation of this as mentioned above is rest in peace. It could imply that he is regretting whatever he did fifty years ago. It is probable that he is hiding behind his ego. After narrating his story, he ends by telling his friend to rest. It also implies that he fears being haunted by the spirit of Fortunato because of the brutal way he ended his life. Guilt has different ways of manifesting. For instance, the fear that washes over you when you realize what you have done is grave.
Fortunato! No answer. I called again: Fortunato! No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within (Poe 10).
The fact that he is calling out to Fortunato to find out if he is still alive shows a sudden rush of guilt in Montresor. If he were still alive, he would have probably shown more guilt.
The narrator exhibits a nature that is unstable and could lead to self-destruction and sin. He is unable to forgive Fortunato for a mere insult and seeks vengeance instead. His actions depict that he has a great capacity for evil. He deceives Fortunato by taking advantage of his love for wine. Montresor displays guilt in the end because he accentuates signs of fear for the ghost of Fortunato. Though the story does not say this directly, it can be picked from the way he ends his story. Such shows that there is a feeling of guilt which in turn shows that there was indeed good within Montresor. Someone entirely evil lacks conscience, and the mere fact that Montresor has one shows that his evil obsession for revenge ruined him completely. Therefore, the Cask of Amontillado is a valid demonstration of the Dark Romantic Movement. Through the story, the selfish nature of man where they are willing to sacrifice everything to fulfill their desires despite how horrific comes out clearly.
Poe, E. A. (1846). The Cask of Amontillado. Elegant Ebooks, 1-10. Retrieved from http://www.ibiblio.org/ebooks/Poe/Amontillado.pdf
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