Humor and Horror in Poe’s “The Cask of the Amontillado”

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Edgar Allan Poe is a 19th-century writer and poet known for Gothic horror stories. In The Cask of Amontillado, Poe narrates a tale of a nobleman, Montresor, trying to get revenge on his friend Fortunato. The terror of realizing that the reader is witnessing a character walking into a death trap is balanced out by irony. Together they create a unique setting classical for Poe’s stories.

Gothic fiction is usually associated with horror and supernatural forces. It is a genre born in the 1760s and developed until the early 19th century (Awad and Hamoudi 2902). Awad and Hamoudi describe Classis Gothic fiction as related to “death, all kinds of fear such as claustrophobia, misery, killing by untraditional ways and horror” (2902). There are two aspects in The Cask of Amontillado that contribute the most to the Gothic atmosphere. The first one is that the action unfolds in catacombs at dusk and continues into the night. Such circumstances make the story’s physical setting dark and unsettling as characters advance into the deep vaults of an empty old house, surrounded by the bones of Montresor’s ancestors.

The second factor that contributes to the horror of The Cask of Amontillado is its suspense. From the first lines, readers know that Montresor is planning to murder his friend but does not know how and when he is going to do it. Therefore, readers expect this to happen any minute, and the suspense keeps them interested in the story and horrified at the moment when the murder will happen.

Irony and horror go hand-in-hand in The Cask of Amontillado. The readers see several ironic moments that appear to be fun parts of the story. For example, Fortunato claims to be a wine expert but does not act like one. When Montresor meets his friend at the carnival, Fortunato “had [already] been drinking much” (Poe). In the catacombs, he drinks an entire bottle of wine in one gulp. These moments make him look show-off rather than an expert (Elhefnawy 104). Another ironic moment is Montresor’s servants leaving the house even though he told them to care for it until he is back.

However, the central irony of the story is more important than those humorous moments, and it contributes to the suspense of The Cask of Amontillado as much as horror does. The irony is that the readers know Fortunato is going to his death. Nevertheless, the character does not suspect Montresor and sincerely trusts him. Fortunato acts friendly, utterly oblivious to his fate, but the readers already know what awaits him, which creates the bitter irony that lasts from the first to the last page.

Finally, one last important but the somewhat hidden irony is contained in the previous lines of the story. When Fortunato realizes his fate, he cries out, “For the love of God, Montresor!” (Poe), and Montresor answers with the exact words. Cutitariu argues that Montresor murders Fortunato on religious grounds (207). One of them is Catholic, and the other is a mason. The irony is that religion, which is supposed to bring the best out in people, motivates Montresor to commit a murder.

To conclude, horror and humor are tightly interlinked in The Cask of Amontillado. They are vital features of the story that complement each other. The author uses them to create an ironic tragedy that unfolds in front of the reader’s eyes. The horror and humor are the base of the unique setting and the atmosphere of suspense that keeps the reader engaged throughout the whole story.

Works Cited

Cutitariu, Codrin Liviu. “The Art of Dissimulation. The Good Christian vs. the Loyal Freemason.” Philologica Jassyensia 13.2 (26) (2017): 203-209.

Elhefnawy, Nader. “Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado.” The Explicator 76.2 (2018): 103-105.

Ibrahim, Abdul Sattar Awad, and Maha Samih Hamoudi. “The Gothic Aesthetic and Morality in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”. Opción: Revista de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales 21 (2019): 2899-2921.

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Cask of Amontillado, 1846.