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Cask Of Amontillado And Black Cat

Shrout 1 Aspects and Analysis of Edgar Allen Poe’s ” The Cask of
Amontillado” and the “Black Cat” What makes literary works
considered great, and furthermore what makes the greatness of the work withstand
the test of time? The answer to both of these questions is the same. Greatness
of literary work that withstands the test of time is due to the fact that their
meaning is still seen and identified with by people today, and still evokes
interest in the reader, even though these works were written decades, sometimes
centuries earlier. When works of literature have with stood the test of time,
and are still considered great, these works are analyzed as to why they are so.

One author’s work that has come under much critical analysis to what aspects of
his work make them so great is Edgar Allen Poe. Two works in particular that
have come under analysis are “The Cask of Amontillado”, and the
“Black Cat”. Under analysis, it has been determined that there are
three aspects of Poe’s writing that make his stories literary classics. These
three aspects of his writing are style, theme and use of irony. What are these
three aspects, and how are they used in Poe’s work? Style Edgar Allen Poe’s
literary style has been analyzed in many different ways. It is believed that it
is the style and the view that the reader is given that make his short stories
so compelling. His style is made up of two closely connected parts that
influence the structure of his stories greatly. The first part of his style is
the perception that Poe gives the reader. The perception that the reader gets
can only be achieved by the Shrout 2 second part of his style which is the use
of the first person narrative that both “The Cask of Amontillado”, and
the “The Black Cat” posses. These two connected parts, the perception
and first person narrative, give the stories a sense of realism. Although by
pure critical analysis of the story, a reader may determine that the central
characters of the stories “The Cask of Amontillado, and “The Black
Cat” are insane, not only for there actions, but there thinking as well. As
readers, we should not look at Poe’s stories objectively. “There is no
possible way to obtain from any of Poe’s gothic tales an objective viewpoint
because every word is relayed to the reader directly though the
narrator”(Saliba 70). We believe in all the narrative that the central
character gives, not only on what he sees and does, but also about what he is
thinking. “…the dramatic action of all the stories is directly created by
the narrative voice”(Saliba 70). This is precisely Poe’s intention. As
readers, if we believe that the characters are insane, and there perception of
the world is clouded, we would not believe that what the characters see and feel
is not really happening, then we miss Poe’s intentions entirely: What is
important is that the reader give credence to the idea that the narrator
believes in his own perception; that what he perceives is surely more true to
him than whatever objective reality the reader might think he sees, or as Poe’s
intended underlying reality of the situation. It is far more important that the
reader trust Shrout 3 the narrator as far as the narrator’s perception is
concerned than that he skip him mentally to reassure himself of Poe’s sane
artistic control the whole time the reader is pursing the story; otherwise he
will be missing the opportunity of enjoying the artistic experience Poe has
intentionally provided (Saliba 68) As for the style of the first person
narrative, it gives the story a totally different perception and feeling, not
found in most short stories. With most short stories, the plot is told from the
outside looking in, in the third person form. As readers, besides the occasional
description, we never get to really determine the true feeling of the central
character. However with Poe’s first person narrative, as readers look from the
inside of the main characters head to the real world as Poe’s character sees it.

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“The intended function of Poe’s narrator is to captivate the reader’s
conscious mind and mesmerize his senses to the extent that he cannot help
identifying with the narrator to some degree”(Saliba 70). With this style
of character portrayal, we as readers know at all times what the central
character is thinking and feeling, and how it influences their actions. In order
for a reader to fully appreciate Poe’s art, the reader must willingly fully
participate in the story (Saliba 70). Theme Theme is the second part of Edgar
Allen Poe’s writing that makes his stories so intriguing. The theme of all his
works has been described has grotesque and arabesque. Shrout 4 “The
grotesque suggests more strongly a yoking of the chaotic, fearful and the comic;
the arabesque suggests more strongly a sense of ironic perspectives in the midst
of confusion and ominoisness. Both suggest the struggle to understand the
incomprehensible, neither term meaning anything absolutely exclusive of the
other, both focused on the tension between conscious control and subconscious
fear and delusion”(Thompson 109). The types of themes that are present in
the “The Cask of Amontillado”, and “The Black Cat”, are
premature burial, which is only seen in “The Cask of Amontillado”,
although wall in the main character’s victims is seen in both stories. The
premature burial was brought about as a result of an act of revenge, however the
motivation of the main character in “The Black Cat” is different. He
is driven to madness by the cat, which in the end becomes his own downfall, but
both characters are seeking to commit the perfect crime. “What the narrator
describes is what he would call a “flawless plot”, that is, a plot to
commit a crime and get away with it. But it is precisely the plot or the pattern
that gives it away”(May 78). Theses themes greatly influence the characters
involved in the plot as they pertain the story line. The use of premature burial
as a way to enact Montresor revenge on Fortunado in “The Cask of
Amontillado” has many uses. “The reason that premature burial is so
appealing to Poe is that it embodies the idea of an awareness or a perception of
one’s lack of control. Such an awareness engenders fear”(Saliba 79). The
time period in which the “The Cask of Amontillado takes place, premature
burial was a common way of fulfilling revenge. The reason for this is simple.

The idea of premature burial as a means for Shrout 5 revenge either by walled in
or being buried alive victims still leaves room flaw. This flaw is known and
intended by the person acting out the revenge. Divine intervention is the flaw
that exists in the almost perfect scheme. This divine intervention comes as an
outlet for which the person seeking revenge could escape to. For example, if a
person is buried alive or walled in as a result of revenge, then if the revenge
were injustice, then God would step in as divined intervention and save the
person from death. If the revenge were justified, then the person’s death as a
result of being buried alive or walled in would only be right, and just. Also
the use of premature burial, and or walling in someone, as a use of revenge is
near flawless, except for divine intervention. When burying someone alive, or
walling someone in, all evidence is concealed, and natural death is the actual
cause of death. This method of revenge destroys motive for killing rendering it
impossible for a person to be convicted of his or her crimes. The theme and
motive are direct influences on one another in “The Black Cat”. On the
surface, the motive appears to be his common household black cat, his hatred for
this animal drove to madness and the final ironic conclusion, but the black cat
posses much more meaning then that. “The Black Cat”(1843) carries the
same themes further and details more clearly the irrational desire, almost
ultimate irony, to act against oneself, with an ambiguous conclusion suggesting
the agency of malevolent fortune at the same time that it suggests subconscious
self-punishment”(Thompson 172). We as readers can also see, his obsessive
tendencies in the story, for example he abuses and kills his first cat, and yet
he gets another one just like it, even with only one eye. “The
“cause” of the Shrout 6 image of the cat is the obsessive nature of
the narrator that has been translated into the obsessive unity of the story – a
unity that demands the plaster image of the cat, just has it demands the
reappearance of another cat that reflects the first – a cat that, like the
original one, has lost one eye and has the image of the gallows around its
neck”(May 75). The narrator has no sense of guilt for his actions, yet he
is happy, filled with glee, that his wife’s body rots behind the wall that he
built (May 75). His guiltlessness and obsessive nature towards the cat is seen
in full effect at the climatic end of the story. “It did not make its
appearance during the night; and thus for one night at least since its
introduction into the house, I soundly and tranquilly slept – ay, slept even
with the burden of murder upon my soul”(Poe, Tales of Mystery and
Imagination 346)! “To embody both agony and exultation at once is the
essence of the paradox that makes up his obsession – his motiveless
motive….”(May 75). There seems to no apparent reason the reader can
detect for the main character’s obsession and hatred for the cat that causes his
own demise. Lastly, how the motive and theme tie together, which is seen in both
stories “The Cask of Amontillado”, and the “The Black Cat”
is the flawless plan, which in both cases results in main characters downfall.

There is no such thing as a perfect crime. No matter how hard one tries, there
will always be some kind of evidence to convict someone of his or her crimes. In
both stories, the attempt to pull off a perfect crime results in the main
characters ending conflict. In “The Cask of Amontillado, Montresor’s plan
is only flawed by the fact that he confesses his murder in the end of the tale.

However in “The Shrout 7 Black Cat” he overlooks the fact that he
walls the cat with his murdered wife, which causes him to get caught. Use of
Irony The last and most easily seen aspects of Poe’s writing is the heavy use of
irony. This use of irony is very present in both stories “The Cask of
Amontillado” and “The Black Cat”. It is this use of irony that
makes the story so great. The difference between the two uses of irony in both
stories is that in “The Cask of Amontillado” irony seems to be
subtler, which sets up and strengthens the ending, whereas in “The Black
Cat”, the only use of irony is the ending. In the “The Cask of
Amontillado”, there are basically two types of irony present. The first is
the irony, which Montresor uses on Fortunado to enable his revenge to take
place, and the second is, the irony that follows the pattern of the story (May
79-80). For example, in “The Cask of Amontillado” the first and most
obvious use of irony in the story is the fact that Montresor had explicitly
ordered for his servants to stay home, so that that he could enact his revenge
(May 79). This use of irony is directly engaged by Montresor. It is seen again
to lure Fortunado into his catacomb grave. “…Montresor creates and
controls [the irony], – such as urging Fortunado to leave the dangerous
catacombs, knowing that the more he urges him to leave the more he will want to
stay…”(May 80). The last and most prolific of all the ironies set up by
Montresor is the comment that he makes to Fortunado: Among the ironies created
and sustained by Montresor are the verbal ironies of telling Fortunado he is
“luckily” met, agreeing Shrout 8 with him that he will not die of a
cough, and drinking a toast to his long life. Such remarks are understood by the
reader as ironic, of course, only after the story has ended and one understands
its overall pattern; however, because Montresor has already constructed his plot
and thus predetermined its end, he can engage in ironies that give pleasure to
him both as he utters them in the past and he tells the story in the present
(May 80). On the other hand, the other use of irony is created and sustained by
the pattern of the story. For example, Fortunado believes that he is a wine
expert, which is used as the lure for him enter the catacombs. Also, Fortunado
is wearing the cap and bells of a fool, a fool who is ironically about to be
buried alive (May 80). The last, subtlest, and the greatest of the ironies in
the story, is the confession. If we analyze the way the story is written, it
starts of telling the story in the first person present, but in the last
paragraph, turns to telling the story in the past tense. This change in tense
has brought about many hypothesis and theories as to why there would be a change
in tense. “We legitimately hypothesize that the listener is a priest and
that Montresor is an old man who is dying and making a final
confession”(May 80). Yet this perfect revenge brings about two ironies,
both closely related. The first is that, as Montresor is telling the story, and
though the climatic ending, he feels that his revenge is just, and feels no
remorse for his actions, yet as he describes, after a half century he is
confessing to his crimes, which would show sorrow, and forgiveness of his sin.

“”The thousand injuries of Fortunado I had borne as Shrout 9 best I
could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge”(3:1256). The
reader has no way of knowing what these “thousand injuries” and the
mysterious insult are and thus can make no judgment about whether Montresor’s
revenge is justifiable”(May 79). Although this is true, telling the story
brings about the second irony. “Thus, Montresor’s plot to murder Fortunado
so delights him by its perfection that in the very telling of it he undercuts
its nature as repentant confession and condemns himself in gleeful
boast”(May 81). This confession of his crimes and enjoyment of the
perfection from which the crime was committed, undermines and negates that fact
that he is even confessing to repent his sins. This is the final and ultimate
irony: “The Cast of Amontillado” (1846), on the surface a tale of
successful and remorseless revenge, we have seen to be Montresor’s deathbed
confession, to an implied listener, of a crime that has tortured him for fifty
years. At the conclusion of the tale, the apparently remorseless Montresor
recounts the sudden sickening of heart he felt at the end ” – on account of
the dampness of the catacombs,” he hastily supplies. But ironically his
“revenge,” as Montresor himself defines it, has failed on every count
(Thompson 174). The use of irony in “The Black Cat”, however is not
purposefully set up by the main character, but by the pattern of the story.

Unlike “The Cask of Amontillado”, where Shrout 10 irony is seen from
beginning to end in two forms, there is only one use of irony that exists in
“The Black Cat”. This use of irony is not seen until the very end of
the story. The main characters obsession that builds through the story, which
brings about the hatred for the black cat that he owns, makes for the irony. In
the end as described in the story, he tries killing the cat with an ax, and is
stopped by his wife. In is obsessive hatred for the cat, and rage that
enthralled him by being almost tripped down the stairs by the cat, and because
his wife stopped him from killing the cat, the main character buries the ax in
the head of his wife. Here is the first part of the irony that exists. The cat
with which he is so obsessed with and hates, has brought him into killing his
wife, and because of his obsession and hatred for the black cat, the narrator
feels no remorse or guilt for his crime. In an attempt to flawlessly hide his
crime, he not only wall in his wife’s carcass, but also the hated black cat.

This is the set up for the second, and most climatic irony of the story. After
investigation into the missing wife, authorities search the narrator’s home, and
eventually venture into the basement where both the cat and his wife are walled
in. In an attempt to mock the authorities in their fruitless search, the main
character knocks on the wall commenting on the well-constructed house.

“That the cat embodies this very image of paradoxical perverseness is
suggested by the narrator describes the sound it makes when he raps on the wall:
“a howl – a wailing shriek, half of horror, half of triumph, such as might
have risen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the
damnation”(3:859)”(May 75). The black cat, which he overlooked and
buried with his wife, has yet again comeback to haunt him. The black cat’s cry
alerts the police that Shrout 11 there is something behind the fake wall, and
upon investigation the body of his murdered wife is discovered: In the next, a
dozen stout arms were toiling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already
greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the
spectators. Upon its head with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat
the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing
voice had consigned me to hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb
(Poe, Tales of Mystery and Imagination 349) After analyzing the three aspects of
Poe’s writing, style, theme and use of irony, we as readers have a better
understanding of not only how to read Poe’s tales, but also the meaning that
goes much deeper then the surface of the story. The unique perception that that
Poe’s gives his stories enables the reader to identify with the main characters’
thoughts, actions and feeling. Also, the themes he uses, although at times are
grotesque, are original, and entice the reader, showing the darker side of the
human soul. Lastly, the use of heavy irony gives Poe’s stories an unpredictable
edge that keeps the reader coming back again and again to read his Gothic tales.

These three aspects of Poe’s ingenious writing make them the literary classics
that they are today.

May, Charles E. Edgar Allen Poe: “A Study of the Short Fiction.”
New York: Twayne Publishers, 1981. 78-81. Poe, Edgar A. Tales of Edgar Allen
Poe. New York: Books of Wonder, 1991. 51-59. Poe, Edgar A. Tales of Mystery and
Imagination. New Jersey: Castle Book Sales Inc. 339-349. Saliba, David R. A
Psychology of Fear: ” The Nightmare Formula of Edgar Allen Poe.” New
York: UP of America, 1980. 69,70,79. Thompson, G.R. Poe’s Fiction: “
Romantic Irony in Gothic Tales.” Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin
Press, 1973. 13,14, 99-103, 109,172-174.


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