Poe's Secret Messages

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Edgar Allen Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" is a story about a premeditated murder. The real question proposed, however, is Poe's writing about his life in relationship to the story. Throughout the story, readers become aware that Montresor is not a reliable narrator and that he has a tendency to hold grudges and exaggerate terribly, as he refers to the "thousand injuries" that he has "suffered at the hands of Fortunato." When Fortunato insulted Montresor, he could stand no more, and vowed revenge. Behind the darkness of Poe's writings lie hidden messages that link to his life and his views of the world around him.

Montresor, the main character, is Poe in disguise and Poe's stepfather "much resembled Fortunato in being a man rich, respected, admired, beloved, interested in wines, and a member of the Masons" (Silverman 337) John Gruesser goes on to explain, As Montresor himself remarks, Fortunato is the golden boy, "rich, respected, admired, beloved . . . happy. . . ." Montresor has not been so blessed, or as he asserts, he once was, but has lost his status and/or his contentment. To someone who is unfortunate, like Montresor, Fortunato's happiness is a daily injury. Thus, Montresor conceives and executes an ingenious plan, which appears to succeed, for revenging himself on fortune's friend. Sealed in the Montresor family vaults, Fortunato is deprived of everything.

Montresor uses his family motto in an attempt to convince the reader that what he is going to do is honorable. "Nemo me impune lacessit," the motto, means that no one can harm me without getting punished in return. Poe felt a great deal of resentment toward his stepfather and gets revenge through writing the story. This would lead one to question the psychological status of Poe during the period in which he wrote his many classics. They all seem to have a dark overshadowing feeling to them. Roger Platizky explains in his critical essay, Poe's THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO. The threat of being buried alive is both a psychological fear and a historical reality that Edgar Allan Poe capitalizes on, ambiguously, in his famous short story of revenge, "The Cask of Amontillado" (1846). Written just two years after "The Premature Burial" (1843 44), "The Cask" is Poe's last and best known short story dealing with what J. Gerald Kennedy calls Poe's "obsessive nightmare" (33), his fixation on living interment. To a significant degree, Poe's fear of live burial had a cultural counterpart. In the sixteenth century, being buried alive was the severe punishment for sexual offenses and grand larceny (van Dulmen 6). Although there is no concrete evidence of Fortunato's having committed either of these offenses, Montresor implies that his rival, a member of the Freemasons, is responsible for his loss of status, happiness, love, and respect: "You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was" (1259). Sardonically twisting justice, for what he mockingly tells Fortunato is "the love of God!" (1263), Montresor uses Fortunato's pride in being a Mason and a wine connoisseur to entrap his adversary.

This analysis would imply that Poe's personality in Montresor, is building a wall between himself and his stepfather's in Fortunato. "The Cask" simply could have been Poe's way of venting out his frustration and anger towards his foster family in a non-violent symbolic way.

Another critic sees the story not about Poe's foster family but as a statement showing anti-aristocratic commentary. "Resentment against aristocratic privileged of all kinds reached a peak in Jacksonian and post-Jacksonian America. Poe's tale is related to innumerable articles in American magazines of the period about the scandalous goings-on of continental nobility" (Levine 454 55). This could be in reference to the cluttered mess of people in the beginning of "The Cask," as compared to Jackson's inauguration, his numerous parties in the White House. The political cartoon depicting Jackson as...
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