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 The Cask of Amontillado

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PostSubject: The Cask of Amontillado   Fri Feb 20, 2009 1:56 pm

In his short story "The Cask of Amontillado," Edgar Allan Poe explores the theme of revenge. It's a story of a murder committed in a very unusual, even bizarre way. The setting is Italy in the 1800s during the celebration of carnival, a time of masquerade and wild partying. Montresor is the central character and narrator, a man who is angry with his acquaintance Fortunato because he believes Fortunato has insulted him. Montresor is a man of such pride that he considers an insult the ultimate wrong. He decides to avenge himself on Fortunato in such a way that his crime will go undetected and his victim will be fully aware of what is happening.

He does this by preying upon Fortunato's pride. Well aware that Fortunato considers himself an expert on fine wines, Montresor claims he has bought a cask of Amontillado wine but tells Fortunato that he thinks he may have been cheated. Fortunato insists on sampling the wine and settling the question, especially when Montresor suggests that he might instead consult Luchesi, Fortunato's rival in wine expertise.

Luring Fortunato deep into the catacombs beneath the Montresor palace and plying him with wine, Montresor traps him in a tiny chamber among the dusty wine bottles and moldering bones. He chains the drunken Fortunato and then walls him up in this horrible place to die a slow death. Poe makes us realize that pride is the undoing of both men. I admired how Poe creates this mirror image of pride reflected in both murderer and victim.

Poe's story brought up some conflicting feelings in me as I read it, and especially as I thought about it later. First, I must admit, I felt some grudging admiration for Montresor's "perfect murder." Since it's carnival time, he can wear a mask as he leads Fortunato through the streets so that no one can later claim to have seen them together the night Fortunato disappeared. The body will never be dicovered, so it's the perfect crime.

Then I began to feel some of the cold creepiness of the catacomb. I realized, going back over the story, that although Montresor says that he has been wronged many times by this man, it is only an insult, a blow to his pride, that drives him to murderous revenge. I saw that Montresor will always be trapped in his pride, as Fortunato is trapped in the catacomb, being painfully wounded by every passing insult.

Poe drives home this horror by the end of the story when we realize that fifty years later Montresor still lives and the crime has never been discovered. The last line gave me goosebumps, especially when I reread the story: "In pace requiescat!"- rest in peace. Montresor, Poe implies, has never been able to rest or live in peace because of his overwhelming pride.

I think I can safely say that I'd never be driven to murder out of pride or because of an insult. But how many times have I carried around the sting of an insult, reliving the pain long after I could have just let it go? Long after the person who insulted me had forgotten about it, I'd still be reacting, my pride forcing me to waste emotional energy. We see this in the story---long after Fortunato is dead, Montresor is still carrying the burden of his pride, his memory of the long-ago insult, and the guilt of being a murderer.

A few times when I've gotten some limited type of "revenge" against someone, I felt good about it for a while, sometimes a very short while. But then I realized my actions had left a bad taste. Montresor feels a hint of this in the story when he says, "My heart grew sick---on account of the dampness of the catacombs." We see that he will carry that dampness and ugliness deep in his soul.

The one place where we are all trapped, Poe seems to suggest, is in our own minds. What the story seems to me is that just as Montresor chose pride and revenge, I am also free to choose. The image I think of when I lokk back on Poe's story is the dark, damp place of death as a symbol for the inside of Montresor's mind ---no windows, no light, no freedom. I'm free to choose that kind of mind---or a place of confidence instead of pride, a place or forgiveness instead of revenge.
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