Want to delve into the mind of a murderer? 

Poe was a master of voice and dramatic irony.   In many of his tales he recreated the voice of a murderous madman.  And in each of these cases, that first-person narration makes it abundantly clear to the reader that the narrator is utterly out of his mind, which is a delicious kind of dramatic irony (that is, the reader’s knowledge of the individual surpasses that of the character). 

THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled—but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved, precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

It must be understood, that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. 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. 

–from ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ (1846) 

These are the opening lines of the story, and so Poe does yet another amazing thing with his tale: he grips the reader from the very first paragraph.    

Interestingly enough, we never really learn what Fortunato’s crime was, or what he did to insult Mentrosor, the murderer.  But judging by Fortunato’s comments about Amontillado and sherry, his crime may have been a simple vulgar ignorance of good wine.  In the end, what kind of rational justification can there be for revenge? There is none. And so, believe it or not, by not revealing Montresor’s ‘reason’ for revenge, ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ contains a moral lesson–especially applicable in today’s tragic world.

The image is taken from  Harry Clarke’s (1889-1931) illustration of poor Fortunato, chained up and ready to be sealed up alive.   

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