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Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado

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Montresor avenges some unspecified insult inflicted on him by Fortunato and thus buries him alive. Significantly, the cause for the murder is rendered insignificant and the maneuvers and the actual execution of murder gain prominence in the story. The paradigm of sacrifice enters the story in the instance where Montresor warns Fortunato against staying in the damp catacombs for the latter seems to have a cough. Fortunato’s reply that a cough shall not kill him compounds the irony in the story and anticipates his predicament. However, it also highlights a kind of unstated willingness on Fortunato’s part in the scheme planned by Montresor. There is a suggestion that Fortunato may have subconsciously accepted the fate which awaited him. It is here that the numerous parallels between Fortunato’s murder and Christ’s crucifixion enter the story. The theme of revenge drives the plot of the story. The metaphor which encapsulates this theme is the motto on Montresor’s family coat of arms which proclaims Nemo me impune lacessit(No one insults me with impunity) (Poe, 99). The symbol which shows a foot crushing a snake while the snake’s fangs are set in the foot is reminiscent of Christian theology. The snake is often identified with the Adversary or Satan and thus represents the figure of the avenger in Montresor. Montresor can also be said to be reminiscent of Judas, Jesus’ friend who betrayed him. Fortunato’s meek submission to his fate and the heinous manner in which he was killed, coupled with his last words For the love of God, Montresor! (Poe, 101) yet again emphasize the theological underpinnings of the story. The unmistakable parallels between Christ’s death and Fortunato’s murder are seen also in the fact that Montresor kills Fortunato in the catacombs which are hallowed spaces. The very name Fortunato which means ‘fortunate or blessed’ seems to be ironic. Despite the many similarities in their predicaments, Fortunato unlike Christ lies in a desolate tomb, unknown to the world, without having accomplished much for the greater good of mankind. The many points of confluence and departure between Christ and Fortunato perhaps constitute a certain existential questioning that the story brings about regarding the place of virtue and sacrifice in the modern world. This rendition of Fortunato as a modern, albeit ironic adaptation of Christ is done by keeping the original insult inflicted on Montresor deliberately ambiguous. The fact that much of our understanding of the story is mediated by Montresor’s subjective opinion brings about a significant subversion of conventional spiritual or theological narratives in which the murderer or the sinner is seldom given a chance to express himself. It may be well said that journey undertaken by Montresor and Fortunato to the wine cellars and ultimately to the catacombs assumes the character of a pilgrimage. The ironic reversal however lies in the fact that the journey is made for the precious Amontillado and not for any ostensible spiritual quest. The murder of Fortunato further subverts the motif of the pilgrimage and conjures the image of aborted spiritual endeavors in the modern world. The spatial and temporal settings of Poe’s story significantly shape its thematic concerns. It is important to note that the story is set in an indeterminate year in Italy during the carnival of Mardi Gras. In