Psychological Imagery in “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Edgar Allen Poe was an American author who was best known for his short stories and epic poems, most of which were in the horror and macabre genres. He was a man who suffered from many mental ailments such as depression and bipolar disorder and found the most successful method of medication is that of substance abuse. It was with these troubles and addictions that Poe opened his veins and let his inner turmoil bleed out into his works, transforming them into something truly horrifying and memorable. Edgar Allen Poe used his own psychological disorders to flood his story of The Cask of Amontillado with a unique opinion on narrative. It has been concluded that Edgar Allen Poe encoded imagery within The Cask of Amontillado to allow the reader to understand his own personal fears and addictions, the plot of The Cask of Amontillado is pushed forward due to Poe’s use of this type of inner mental instability through his imagery, and revenge is portrayed throughout the casks’ hidden torment.

It was known among his family and peers that Poe was afraid of being buried alive. So, when this short story was his final act his ultimate fear was reestablished – taphophobia. The fear of this type of experience could be described as an unendurable oppression of the lungs, the stifling fumes from the damp earth, the clinging to the death garments, the rigid embrace of the narrow house, the blackness of the absolute Night, the silence like a sea that overwhelms, the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm…” (Ramsland, K. (2014, September 27). Due to the lack of medical advancements in the 18th century, it was common to misdiagnose someone as dead when they were indeed still alive. This became less frequent in the early 1900’s as mouth to mouth resuscitation became more customary practice, and many doctors were able to bring their patients back to consciousness using that technique.

To bring the characters more in tandem, to bring more irony to the story, Poe made a choice in which both Fortunato and Montresor be one in the same.  Addiction is a trait that both Fortunato and Montresor share. Fortunato with that of alcohol, and Montresor with the addiction of revenge. The reader is never made aware exactly what was said to send Montresor over the deep end, but it can be determined that “Montresor’s insanity rests upon the presupposition that insults ought to be differentiated and that only some of them are offensive enough to call for murder while others may be handled in a more civilized manner” (Elena V Baraban, a. (2004).

Poe was an author who made sure his word read in a beautiful language and could provide descriptive detail. “…What is more distinctive even than Poe’s use of long sentences with polysyllabic diction is the way he employs repetition of word and phrase along with interruptions in the unfolding of sentences to create an effect of intensity, which he often uses to build up suspense and to suggest terror” (Di Yanni, R. (2008). The place where The Cask of Amontillado takes place is also something significant – the catacombs. People are reminded of the thousands of dead buried under the streets of Paris, walls lined with skulls and human skeletal remains preserves this area to be as haunting as it has always been. This is “one of the reasons Poe has Montresor take his crime underground into a symbolic setting: catacombs that are both sacred because of their Christian history and profane because of their nitrous decay” (Platizky, R (1999).

Poe was unique in the way that he thought carefully about what each word meant, and how it was going to read. He was an author who, I felt, took his time with choosing the words which ultimately just makes them more powerful. Poe was an author who used the plot to “convey something of the mysterious feelings his narrator is experiencing” (Di Yanni, R. (2008) and used a technique in his writings that caused the reader to feel what he wrote, to become a part of his madness. His words cascade through the reader and can then audibly hear the agony pouring out of Fortunato as he cried “A succession of loud and shrill screams, bursting suddenly from the throat of the chained form, seemed to thrust me violently back” (Poe, E. (1846). The Cask of Amontillado).

It is important to note that the narrator wanted revenge for the insult Fortunato lashed out at him, not for the injuries themselves. This led the reader to believe that the narrator had immense pride and would do anything to regain it, as well as stopping what left the initial scar. The fatal flaw leading to the downfall of Fortunato was his own unwillingness to not drink this special cask of Amontillado. This reaches into a theme of addiction, and how it can be the literal end of someone. “Love can turn to hate and often does; but hate – and certainly in Poe’s perverse world – can turn into affection. The feelings Montresor experiences after his revenge has been exacted and not uncommon, either in literature or in life” (Delaney, B. (2005).

Some writers just start writing and let the story take them places, others need to know the ending before the beginning – Poe was one of these writers. He was complete and planned out, but also addictingly tragic.

 

References

 

Delaney, B. (2005). Poe’s THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO. The Explicator, 64(1), 33-35. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/216779320?accountid=32521

Di Yanni, R. (2008). Literature: Approaches to fiction, poetry, and drama (2nd ed.). New York:  McGraw-Hill

Ramsland, K. (2014, September 27). Taphophobia: Fear of Waking inside your Grave. Retrieved September 04, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shadow-boxing/201409/taphophobia-fear-waking-inside-your-grave

Poe, E. (1846). The Cask of Amontillado

Platizky, R. (1999). Poe’s the cask of amontillado. The Explicator, 57(4), 206-209. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/216774121?accountid=3252

Baraban, Elena. (2004). The Motive for Murder in “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe. Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature. 58. 47-62. 10.2307/1566552.

 

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