Edgar Allan Poe and Gothic Imagery in "The Cask of Amontillado"

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ENG 341-Studies in Literary Genres|
The Significance of Imagery
In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” |

Lauren Grilli

Imagery is described as the ‘mental pictures’ one interprets from reading any type of literature; this can be done using any of the five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight and sound. Edgar Allan Poe is notorious for his use of dramatic imagery in the gothic genre. “Gothic literature has a number of conventions, including evocations of horror, suggestions of the supernatural, and dark, exotic locales such as castles and crumbling mansions” (Canada, 1997). In this paper, I will examine the imagery Poe has chosen in The Cask of Amontillado, and explain why it is vital to the furthering of the plot.

In "The Cask of Amontillado" Poe uses descriptive language and imagery to create a sense of intrigue and an enticing character and situation, expanding the rhetorical strategy of maintaining a state of suspense. Although it remains a mystery, throughout The Cask of Amontillado, the reason why the narrator harbors such hatred toward Fortunato, this missing information adds to the suspense and allows the reader forge a bond with the words Montresor speaks, as he cunningly guides Fortunato to his death. Aside from creating a closer attention to the descriptive language, Poe also uses imagery to create the sense of impending doom. Two main contributors to the impending doom and suspense, which course freely through the structure of the entire story, are irony and foreshadowing. Poe highlights these components through imagery, creating, for the reader, a sense of place that becomes overwhelmed with underlying fear. In sum, the story of The Cask of Amontillado relies heavily on descriptive language and imagery to achieve a sense of atmosphere that parallels its dark plot.

Some critics, like Phillips, argue that Poe’s extensive use of dark imagery “in an effort, largely successful, to create mood, sacrificed (willingly or inadvertently) both characterization and plot” (1972). I, along with many other critics, do not believe this to be true. In fact, it is his use of the extensively dark and ominous imagery that gives The Cask of Amontillado the intense suspense necessary to achieve the effect the final act of violence and murder has on the reader. The character’s actions and descriptions produce the horror that Poe intended to enhance the suspense and the shock value of the story’s outcome. In the next paragraphs, I will analyze Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, and demonstrate the importance of the imagery in the furthering of the plot by building suspense through setting, characterization, foreshadowing and irony.

Poe's use of descriptive language and imagery, to create suspense, goes far beyond his creation of character and motivation alone. He carefully chooses words that convey a strong sense of place and, in turn, create more tension. The Cask of Amontillado’s setting has begun at “about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season” (DiYanni, 2004). Instead of being given a portrait of a carnival with a light atmosphere, it is the end of the day and, much like the narrator’s intentions, it is growing dark. Poe describes the ambiance of the setting as taking place during a time of “supreme madness” and thus it becomes clear that there is something sinister about the setting (DiYanni, 2004). There is an air of madness and chaos, rather than joy and fun, through such details in the setting. Montresor is smiling during the search for Fortunato; waiting to begin his plan of revenge for the “impunities” he has suffered at Fortunato’s expense (DiYanni, 2004). His smile causes the reader a certain degree of uneasiness and morbid curiosity towards this impending punishment, and it becomes obvious that Montresor is twisted and evil. When Fortunato appears he is “drunk” and wearing “a tight-fitting, parti-striped dress, and his head was...
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