The Short Story “The Cask of Amontillado”
The short story “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe contains various different forms of symbolism. Writers tend to use symbolism to describe an object or something with more clarity, it provides additional meaning to the text. Edgar Allan Poe’s intense use of symbolism throughout “The Cask of Amontillado” establishes a brilliant use of these elements to create this suspenseful short story.
The title of this short story seems to have some sort of additional meaning to it. To start off Amontillado is a certain type of alcoholic beverage. For Fortunato, Amontillado symbolizes pleasure and enjoyment.. He would probably do just about anything for it, but it betrays him.This is basically what led Amontillado to his tragic death, if he would have been sober he would not have fell for Montresors tricks.While for Montresor, Amontillado means something completely different instead of being controlled by it he uses it to get what he wants, which is the power to get revenge against Fortunato While the word cask means a sturdy cylindrical container for storing liquids, and the word casket have the same root. The relationship between the two represents the way in which Montresor tricks Fortunato down to the catacombs and then eventually into what will become his walled-in casket.
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The Montresor family has both a crest and a family motto which are both very symbolic in this short story. The motto“ nemo me impune lacessit” (Page 252) basically means nobody harms me without being punished which is what Fortunato did to not only Montresor but to many others as well. Fortunato brings up the Montresor family motto and emblem. The picture above it is an allusion to the Book of Genesis in the Bible “A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.” (Page 252)
It is symbolic of what happens to Fortunato. Fortunato has wounded Montresor’s pride which can be seen as the snake biting the heel but then the heel fights back but with double the power like Montresor. Montresor kills Fortunato in the most wicked way which then can be seen as the heel crushing the snakes head. Montresor can be seen as the heel in this act.
Poe uses symbolism in this short story is through both of the main characters names. Fortunato’s name basically means fortunate one in Italian even though he is anything but fortunate. He is set in an unlucky destiny as Montresor’s victim of revenge or payback as he sees it. Fortunato adds to his name by wearing the costume of a jester which can also be thought of as a fool. Fortunato playing his role in jest can also be seen as Montresor’s plan to fool him since he is so drunk. Montresor means treasure in french. The treasure the narrator owns in this case is the understanding of perfect revenge for what Fortunato has done to him.
Another way that the author uses symbolism through both characters is in their clothing. Montresor was wearing “a mask of black silk, and drawing a roquelaire” (Page 251) A roquelaire is a knee length cloak which was worn a lot around the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Montresor uses it as a nice gesture to cover up Fortunato but it can also be seen as symbolic because he uses it capture Fortunato. When Montresor runs into Fortunato on the street, Fortunato is wearing colored motley and a cap with bells on it. The jesters costume that Fortunato is wearing gives the reader a way to visualize what his character is going to be like. This is the type costume jesters or fools in the old form of theater would wear. Fortunato practically plays the part of a fool throughout the story because Montresor seems to give him various clues about what his plans are but he never reacts in time to them. Now the jingling bells can also be as symbolic. “ His head was surmounted with conical cap and bells”. (Page 250) The bells can give him attention especially since it was during carnival season and there was so many people around. This might be considered a problem for Montresor since he probably does not want people to notice that he was the last person Fortunato was seen with when people realize he is missing. But with Montresor practically wearing all black and Fortunato wearing an absurd outfit gave less attention to Montresor since Fortunato attracted people’s attention more. With Montresor dressed in all black it seems like he is not participating in the carnival. It is almost as he is invisible amongst all people since everyone is colorfully dressed. When people ask about Fortunato other’s will remember or seeing him in the carnival, but noone will remember seeing who he was with. It seems that one Poe’s purposes in the characters outfits was to portray Montresor as a shadow.
Lastly it is very clear that the nitre and the carnival setting have a very symbolic meaning in this short story. Nitre in this case can be thought of as nitrate which is very common in caves or in this story it would be in the catacombs. Nitrate is actually an irritant while breathing it in it can cause a lot coughing. “The nitre!” I said; “see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river’s bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come, we will go back ere it is too late. Your cough… “It is nothing,” he said; “let us go on.”(252) Here it can be seen as Montresor trying to act as if he cares about Fortunato’s health. It seems as just another step that he is taking to continue with the revenge he has planned out for his “friend” it is really clear that he is just trying to get Fortunato to trust him. Even though the nitre has many it additional meanings it can be seen as more of a trap then its actual meaning. “It is farther on,” said I; “but observe the white web- work which gleams from these cavern walls.” (251) As you read this you get to see the additional meaning to the nitre. The nitre can be the web or trap that Montresor has planned for his victim. Now the setting has some symbolism as well, “It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season.” (250) This can represent all of the craziness going on in Montresor’s head and everything he is willing to do to get revenge. A carnival can be thought of as a happy free place the difference in this would be that at first it was a happy place for Fortunato but it was quickly changed due to Montresors crazy plan for revenge.
In the short story “The Cask of Amontillado” Edgar Allan Poe uses symbolism to add double meaning to the text, it can be seen in the Amontillado, the Montresor family motto, the characters names, outfits, the nitre and carnival setting. Poe’s use of symbolism makes the story even more interesting than it already is because it constantly leaves you thinking about any additional meaning there can be.