Mood in Edgar Allen Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado”
The “Cask of Amontillado” is a short story by Edgar Allen Poe that follows an act of revenge enacted on a man called Fortunato by Montresor. Montresor does so out of the assumption that Fortunato has insulted him, and his revenge is subtle, intricate, and the main driving force of the story’s theme and mood. The mood of the story is suspenseful, dark, and vengeful. Due to both the reader’s and Fortunato’s steady realization of Montresor’s true intentions and plans, the narrative generates both tense and thrilling passages that lead to bleak and frightful discoveries as Fortunato finally comes to face his doom at the hands of Montresor. As such, the moods of suspense, darkness, and vengeance are interconnected within the narrative and are noticeable within the settings and characterizations.
The main thematic statement of the story, and as such a component of its mood, can be found in the quote said by Montresor: “the thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.” (Poe 8). The quote illustrates the depths of Montresor’s anger, intent, and plans, which aim to avoid finding justice through legal means. In fact, the story depicts that Montresor commits murder by barricading a drunk Fortunato in the catacombs in which he had chained him. Montresor seems to be patient as he explains that despite the injuries caused by Fortunato, it was the insults that had driven him to revenge. This also foreshadows the extent to which he is willing to go in order to trick and kill Fortunato.
The darkness of Montresor is revealed by his own character but also by the depiction of Fortunato. Fortunato is dressed in multicolored clothes, essentially being a portrayal of a jester. On the opposite end, Montresor is described as wearing a mask of black silk. Additionally, the most crucial scenes of the story occur within places that are associated with darkness, such as the catacombs. The act of the two leaving the festival through their descent to the catacombs signifies the turn to darkness by both characters or a trip to hell from Poe’s perspective. However, it is when Montresor mentions the phrase “may he rest in peace” that his true darkness is established (Poe 14). The imagery of darkness also creates space for suspense and tension.
Suspense is likely the most prevalent theme in the narrative as it allows the reader to formulate a number of questions as the story unfolds. First, the reader may question how Montresor will attempt to enact his revenge on Fortunato without facing any consequences. Second, as the plot begins to display that Montresor is capable of extensive trickery, the readers may become curious about a number of elements, such as the wine, Montresor’s status as a mason, and the allusion to the true meaning of the motto of his family’s crest. The scene is punctuated with Fortunato’s last words, “for the love of God, Montresor!” (Poe 13). As the alcohol begins to wear off for Fortunato and Montresor begins to build the wall to close him in, the suspense is at its peak as the fate of the trapped man becomes clear.
The “Cask of Amontillado” is a story of vengeance that is made suspenseful by a very tense and dark mood. Poe is able to create such an effect by the introduction of foreshadowing, characterization, dialogue, and setting. The presence of bones, family crests, and catacombs is essential in creating the suspenseful narrative that is found in the text. It results in an ending that, though it may not be surprising to all, is reflective of the mood in the beginning and middle of the text.
Poe, Edgar A. The Cask of Amontillado. Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1846.