Emotional Writing in “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”
Romanticism can be defined as “a literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions” (merriam-webster dictionary). It is said to be a response to the Industrial Revolution as well as the preceding age of enlightenment, when emphasis on science and reason was common in literature and art (“Romanticism and the Industrial Revolution”). Consequently, later works, such as that of Edgar Allan Poe, responded to these movements by emphasizing intense emotions, imagination, and experiences in nature.
Edgar Allan Poe, born in 1809, was probably best known for his dark-romantic style of writing in his gruesome short stories. Being a central figure of literary romanticism, as well as being one of the first authors to create short stories, Edgar Allan Poe has made significant contributions to American Literature. Throughout his romantic works, Poe explores dark, negative emotions through evil and emotionally-disturbed characters. This essay will examine the main characters of two of Poe’s most famous works, “The Cask of Amontillado”, and “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and how they are influenced by the romantic style of writing that was popular at the time.
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In “The Cask of Amontillado”, Poe explores the depths of human viciousness through the story’s narrator, Montresor. Montresor is a cruel and perhaps sadistic character, plotting to kill an acquaintance in a horrid way. At the beginning of the story, Montresor explains his motivations: “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge” (Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado” 3). This exaggeration is meant to show the extremity of Montresor’s anger, as well as his instability.
As the story continues, Poe paints a picture of an emotionally disturbed individual through Montresor. As Montresor leads a drunk and unsuspecting Fortunato to his family’s catacombs, he narrates, “I continued, as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation” (Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado” 3). His calm and calculating approach to his murder plot demonstrates the depth of emotion that overwhelms his mind with hatred. Furthermore, Montresor displays sick pleasure at Fortunato’s panic, mocking his cries: “A succession of loud and shrill screams, bursting suddenly from the throat of the chained form… I replied to the yells of him who clamored. I re-echoed-I aided- I surpassed them in volume and in strength. (Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado” 9).
In “The Cask of Amontillado”, Edgar Allan Poe explores the darkness that lurks within humans using the emotionally disturbed Montresor as the story’s narrator. Poe uses gruesomely descriptive language to illustrate the hatred and depravity of Montresor. Just as how Romanticism is focused on human emotion, this story is focused on dark, terrifying human emotions. Similar to “The Cask of Amontillado”, Poe focuses on disturbed human emotions in “The Tell-Tale Heart” through the story’s narrator. Poe uses inner-dialogue and repeated questioning to show the chaos and obsessiveness that overwhelms the narrator’s mind: “But why do you say that I have lost control of my mind, why do you say that I am mad? Can you not see that I have full control of my mind? Is it not clear that I am not mad?” (Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart” 1).
Though the narrator insists that he is sane, the old man’s “vulture eye” evokes strong emotions in him that ultimately cause him to murder the old man. To further display the narrator’s insanity, Poe includes this justification: “When the old man looked at me with his vulture eye a cold feeling went up and down my back… I finally decided I had to kill the old man and close that eye forever!” (Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart” 2). By showing the audience how easily the narrator succumbs to his anger and paranoia, Poe illustrates how truly crazy this character is.
The excessive use of questions by Poe serves to emphasize the significance of the obsession of the narrator with proving his own health. This repetition shows the desperation of the narrator to minimize the fierce emotion that he experiences and instead appear rational. He subsequently claims, while discussing his meticulously designed plans, he asserts, “So you think that I am mad? A madman cannot plan” (Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart” 2). Although the narrator’s madness is clear, he mainly seeks to convince the reader of his mental stability and the legitimacy of his actions. He acknowledges that he may be considered deranged by the reader, so he aims to prove his health by illustrating his extreme caution and discretion while executing his complex plan. Poe uses these assertions to discuss the refusal of the narrator to accept control over his own mind by his emotions.
In his short stories, romantic author Edgar Allan Poe incorporates senses of negative emotion to reveal their inevitable presence in human nature. This destructive and erratic behavior is depicted by the narrators in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado.” Poe writes with strong negative emotions, such as anger, hatred and vengeance, using several literary techniques to highlight the relevance of the literature’s romantic character.