The Cask of Amontillado replicates Poe’s Gothicism that permeates his literal narratives. However, Montresor executes the murder in the smartest possible way without the grotesque graphics of murder and by sleuth escape of criminal justice retribution. The story further exudes Poe’s support for instinctive justice as opposed to legal justice. As a member of the Animal kingdom, man is endowed with inherent instincts to independently avenge himself/herself in the same manner that a wild animal defends itself against an attacker. Montresor abrogates himself the role of the jury, judge and hangman over Fortunato’s injuries and insults (Axelrod-Sokolov, 2018). The Cast of Amontillado thus portrays a “rule for the judge” kind of society characterized by instinctive justice in complete disregard of the state and criminal justice system that leads to chaos as each citizen exploits his biased rationality to mete unmeasured punishment on the suspect.
Background: Story Summary
The story opens up with a hypocritical beef between Montresor and his friend Fortunato (Waters, 2018). Montresor harbors a hypocritical grudge against his friend Fortunato for Fortunato’s thousand injuries and irreparable insults without offering more details onto the nature of the injuries or insults. He devises a way of settling scores with Fortunato by entombing him alive in his family’s catacombs. Montresor successfully executes his murder plot by duping fortunate to follow him into the family’s catacomb in pursuit of an exotic wine brand named Amontillado (Axelrod-Sokolov, 2018). After tricking Fortunato to enter the niche in the catacomb’s cellar, Montresor ruthlessly chains him to the niche and then entombs Fortunato into the niche with mortal and stone without regard to Fortunato’s begs for mercy.
The Cask of Amontillado thus portrays a “rule for the judge” kind of society characterized by instinctive justice in complete disregard of the state and criminal justice system that leads to chaos as each citizen exploits his biased rationality to mete unmeasured punishment on the suspect.
Poe exploits colorful motives to demonstrate the chaos of instinctive justice as opposed to the orderly justice administered by the state through its criminal justice system. For instance, Monstresor covers his face with a black silk mask to disguise his character from Fortunato. However, the mask does not impute the blindness of Montresor’s “street justice,” but rather it’s Gothic appall evident in its biased and unmeasured retribution. Ironically, an insult merely falls under the civil law jurisdiction rather than a felony or capital crime punishable by death as executed by Montresor. The fact that Montresor confesses the murder half a century later further undermines the verifiability of his accusations against Fortunato. The black silk mask, therefore, reveals the irrationality of “street justice” or instinctive justice in respects to immeasurability of the retribution relative to the alleged offense as well as substantiation of the accusations (Axelrod-Sokolov, 2018).
Poe similarly exploits imageries to show the other side of the coin in the name of justice administered by the criminal justice apparatus of the state. Fortunato’s courtly dress code of a motley-colored costume starkly contrasts the thuggish “black silk costume” won by Montresor. However, Poe’s exudes a fatalistic perspective on state and its criminal justice apparatus in its struggle against “street justice” lawlessness. Poe’s fatalism and pessimism are characteristically evident in the triumph of the murder of the seemingly civil Fortunato by the thuggish Montresor. A Cask of Amontillado, therefore, alludes to an apocalyptic overrun of the state by anarchists as evident literal and tragic murder of the court fool Fortunato by the crafty, hypocritical thug Montresor.
Poe similarly exploits imageries to demonstrate the irrationality of “street justice.” The motley-colored costume worn by Fortunato indicts the death penalty meted on him by Montresor for mere insults and unsubstantiated insults. The irrationality of Fortunato’s death sentence is further evident in the irony between his name Fortunato, the fortunate one, and his tragic death. Similarly, the carnival season ironically contrasts the cold murder of Fortunato in the hands of his lifetime friend Montresor. The carnival season with its inappropriate indulgences also imputes a moment of social disorder enough to inspire murder. However, whereas the disorderly debaucheries of the carnival are merry and joyful, the murder turns the carnival celebrations on its head. The imageries in The Cask of Amontillado and the strategic location of the story during carnival, therefore, show the stark contrasts of “street justice” and justice adjudicated under the “criminal justice system.”
Poe further exploits Gothic scenes to express his vexation with street anarchy, which he scathingly equates with hell on earth. Montresor and Fortunato’s descent figuratively imputes the parallelism between anarchy and hell to the vault along a path lined by Montresor family’s bones in a journey that mimics a visit to the underworld. Montresor and Fortunato’s journey to the Vault under appalling conditions characteristically resembles a descent to hell. Since the excesses of the carnival disorder in the world of the living does not offer Montresor an opportunity to execute his murder, he designs his own carnival in the underground in the world of the dead and satanic where he can execute his murder without leaving a trace (Disanza, 2014). The Cask of Amontillado, therefore, shows Poe’s harshest attack on street anarchy as tantamount to the dead practice of Satanism as characterized by the Gothic lifelessness in the vault (Disanza, 2014).
Poe similarly exploited imageries to demonstrate the social problems that bedeviled inner-streets as a causal explanation of their pervasive anarchy or lawlessness. Such imageries include the story’s title “The Cask of Amontillado,” which describes a multitude of social problems in mid-nineteenth century inner cities. Among them includes drugs, children bullies, sex, parenting, and war among other problems. For instance, the “carnival” season implies a moment of non-courteous indulgences in sex, substance abuse, and appalling social interactions (Greven, 2016).
Similarly, Fortunato’s insults to Montesor probably points out to Montresor’s bullying by Fortunato probably as a child, a grudge that he holds against Fortunato for the rest of his life. Honestly, some bullying incidents in high school will never erase from memories to the extent of a lifetime commitment to avenge such harassment. Fortunato also looks like a spoiled brat whose parents never taught courtesy in his social interaction with people or the perils of overindulgence in wine and carnival. As a kid from a well-off family, Fortunato feels like he can insult anybody and get away with it and also has enough money to indulge in wine and carnival (Poe and Kelley, 2008). As an elitist kid, he is also the best person to tell the difference between ordinary shelly and exotic Amontillado sherry as somebody who has always had pines of wine at his disposal (Kopley, 2013).
Unfortunately, Montresor never forgives an insult or bullying even from an elitist bully since he is the vengeful type. And he exploits Fortunato’s juvenile delinquency as a wine abuser to pay him back for his insults and bullying (Poe and Kelley, 2008). The Cask of Amontillado, therefore, demonstrates Poe’s attempt to sympathize with inner-cities anarchists as victims of their disadvantaged socioeconomic environment rather than inherently criminal race as condemned by bigots (Baraban, 2004).
The streets are no place for softie, elitist kids who cannot stomach its raw anarchy. Fortunato almost coughs his life out as he ventures deeper and deeper into the vault, which signifies his social corruption by the streets, whereas the socially hardened Montresor feels at home in the dumpy catacomb. Similarly, Fortunato gets more drunk as he ventures deeper into the catacombs. Contrary to his optimism that “he cannot die of a cough,” his venture into the untamed streets as a naïve, elitist kid sees him fall to substance abuse that eventually leads to his death. The Cask of Amontillado, therefore, excuses Montresor of the murder crime and instead squarely lays the blame on Fortunato for venturing into the street jungle before evolving the right instincts to cope with street vagaries.
The Cask of Amontillado thus portrays a “rule for the judge” kind of society characterized by instinctive justice in complete disregard of the state and criminal justice system that leads to chaos as each citizen exploits his biased rationality to mete unmeasured punishment on the suspect (Poe and Kelley, 2008). Despite his indignation with “street” anarchy for its threat to social order and the very existence of the state, Poe excuses street anarchists led by Montresor as victims of their disadvantaged socioeconomic environment rather than savage criminals (Poe and Kelley, 2008).
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References Axelrod-Sokolov, M. (2018). The madness of insult in Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado. Madness in Fiction, 1-16. Baraban, E. V. (2004). The motive for murder in "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe. Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, 58(2), 47-62. Disanza, R. (2014). On memory, forgetting, and complicity in "The Cask of Amontillado." The Edgar Allan Poe Review, 15(2), 194-204. Greven, D. (2016). Gender protest and same-sex desire in Antebellum American Literature Margaret Fuller, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville. London: Taylor and Francis. Kopley, R. (2013). Adventures with Poe and Hawthorne. The Edgar Allan Poe Review, 14(1), 16-32. Poe, E. A., & Kelley, G. (2008). The cask of Amontillado. Mankato, MN: Creative Education. Waters, C. (2018). The color of Amontillado: The influence of blackface minstrelsy in "The Cask of Amontillado." The Edgar Allan Poe Review, 19(1), 39-52.