Murderous Intent in Poe’s and O’Connor’s Stories
Many crimes, especially murder, result from betrayal by someone close to or known to the victims. In other words, to be betrayed, the victim must have first trusted the betrayer. Betrayal is caused by greed or selfish motives, which are human nature. Betrayal is a bad experience that destroys trust and relationships. It causes a lot of pain to the victims and may lead them to a path of vengeance and violence. Edgar Allan Poe and Flannery O’Connor have evidenced this fact through their books ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ and ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find.’
In his book, ‘A Cask of Amontillado, Edgar Allan Poe depicts a man called Montresor who decides to seek revenge on his friend Fortunato, who had insulted his family name. A cask is a wine barrel and a word derived from Casket’. The cask is symbolically used to mean the casket of Fortunato, the man who loved to make wine in the story and who will, later on, be murdered by Montresor. He meets Fortunato at a carnival, then lures the unsuspecting man to his home and buries him alive in stones. This short story revolves around revenge, betrayal, and secret murder by two main characters, Montresor, the narrator, and murderer, and Fortunato, the victim (Francisco et al. 12). It is clear from the story that Montresor, the antagonist, came from an ancient noble family and had great taste in wines, paintings, and gems.
It is also evident that Montresor is a man with considerable wit and intelligence. In his plan to execute Fortunato for insulting his name, he does this cleverly and plans it perfectly. He says that he would only act with the most outstanding care so that no one finds out what he intends to do. In this case, he would give Fortunato no reason to doubt him. Montresor also releases his palace servants in time, more so at a time when no one would become suspicious of his murderous intentions towards Fortunato; the time of the Carnival. Therefore, it is clear that Montresor is exceptionally gifted in how he plans out his revenge.
Fortunato thinks he sees a smile of warmth and amiability when Montresor smiles at him continually. However, in reality, the smile is devilish as it acts as a coating of the intentions of murder plotted on Fortunato. Ironically, a man as intelligent and gifted as Montresor can imagine murdering Fortunato because of an insult he suspected had been meted against his family’s name, even though Fortunato had engaged in several other offenses against him. Montresor reveals that Fortunato had committed other wrongs against him, but the worst of it all was insulting the name of such an honorable family. This shows that pain blinds compassion and reason even in the minds and hearts of the most brilliant men. The need to seek revenge instead of amicably solving the issue clouds reason.
In his quest for vengeance, Montesor is sure that what he is about to do is the right way of making things suitable through the quote, ‘I would make him pay but will not suffer for making him pay. A wrong is not made right in this manner (Poe 15). He thus betrays Fortunato, who has no idea of what will happen to him in the hands of Montresor. It is clear that Fortunato is not aware of his mistake and so innocently accompanies his killer to the stone tombs. Montresor is only after revenge and is determined to make him know what he is paying for when he executes his plan. When Fortunato drinks from the buried people among the stones in the catacombs, he does not know that he is drinking to his death. Montresor betrays Fortunato by taking advantage of the victim’s drunken state to carry on with his evil, murderous intentions. He inexplicably betrays himself by not being in his sane mind in a lonely place with a man who has no good intentions toward him. Fortunato also insults Montresor about the masons who use stones as their elements of trade without knowing that his killer will use the same stones to execute his murderous intent.
Montessor, the narrator, has also betrayed the audience of his story by not giving them enough information about what Fortunato could have led to the ‘thousand injuries he had borne as best as he could venture upon him by Fortunato’ (Poe 26). Therefore, the audience is not allowed to give their judgment upon Fortuno, and he may not have deserved to die. These actions show Montesor’s murderous intent against Fortunato, and he finally chains his victim to the small alcove. Despite Fortunato’s cry for mercy, he seals him behind the new brick wall and leaves him for the dead. Fortunato remained unaware of his killer’s motive until his death. He even wonders whether what Montesor is doing is a common joke. Poe seeks to show how selfishness leads to the death of one partly innocent man (Jweid 13). Montresors betrayed Fortunato because the former was seeking to protect and maintain his time-honored family name ‘Montresor,’ which also means, ‘No one can attack me without being punished’ (Poe 42). Another underlying reason for Montresor’s quest for revenge is that he felt betrayed by Fortunato’s action of belittling him by insulting his name. This hurt him so much since he thought Fortunato had insulted his entire generation, who bore Montesor. This pain is what causes Montesor to give in to his murderous intention and kill Fortunato. Poe also reveals the purposeful aspect of betrayal in his story. Montresor narrates that he had done his best to bear a thousand injuries that Fortunato had inflicted on him, but he could do it no more after the latter insulted his family name. This shows that the betrayal on the part of Fortunato towards Montresor was devastating as it occurred repeatedly.
In contrast with Montresors’ actions, however, Fortuno may not have been aware that he was inflicting pain on Montresor. In case Montresor had approached Fortuno and warned him to stop hurting him, the revenge could have been avoided. Montresor’s revenge and betrayal against Fortuno are deliberate and planned, unlike Fortuno’s. He intentionally intends to seek revenge on his unsuspecting cohort. Murder is committed out of pure evil and disregard for morality and ethics, to satisfy selfish needs (Jweid et al. 17). Betrayal is caused by internal fears, insecurities, and selfish desires (Tsokanos et al. 343), as depicted in the Cask of Amontillado. From the story, it is clear that betrayal by inner fears and insecurities causes betrayal which can lead to considerable harm to those involved, including murder.
Flannery O’Connor has also illustrated betrayal and murder in his book ‘Á Good Man is Hard to Find.’ This story involves a family entangled with a criminal called Misfit, and they all get killed. Misfit is a violent murderer who depicts the kind of society we live. Misfit and the two men betray the family by shooting and killing them, thus illustrating the cruel society (O’Connor 31). Society has people who care less about human life but create chaos and cause unnecessary killings. According to the short story, some characters have desires contrary to their responsibilities. This is a betrayal because people decide to forgo responsibilities and focus more on their selfish needs. The grandmother in the story is one such character whose personal desires conflict with her duties. She advises Bailey, her son, to take his family on vacation to East Tennessee instead of going to Florida. In this case, she betrays her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren by not offering the right advice just to have listened.
This grandmother is a selfish and self-centered woman who likes manipulating those around her. The main character in this story considers herself to be better than others. The grandmother sees herself as morally upright and better than all the others. She uses her manipulative qualities to control everyone around her. The mistake of the grandmother lands her son and his family in deep trouble. After the grandmother’s advice, Bailey, her son, and the whole family are in great danger. They land in the hands of murderers who shoot them and kill the entire family. Betrayal is also evident when the grandmother almost faces death after meeting with the Misfit, and it dawns on her she was wrong. She starts shouting and ranting loudly, ‘Jesus, Jesus!’ when she sees the Misfit (O’Connor 46). Throughout the story, the grandmother does not correct the negative attributes in the story. It is her responsibility to become the voice of reason in the family as she is the eldest.
However, she uses this attribute on her family to manipulate those under her. Therefore, she betrays what she should be accountable for and seeks her way of doing things. This betrayal on the grandmother’s part makes her convince her son to go to another destination apart from Florida, where they meet their deaths. This is because she did not want to go to Florida but instead wished to visit some friends in Tennessee; thus, she used this to convince her son, as depicted in this quote, ‘She was seizing every chance to change Bailey’s mind’ (O’Connor 12). The quote shows that Bailey’s mother is determined to get whatever she wants by luring her son. This indicates that she is very sly, witty, and manipulative with her flesh and blood.
She uses the phrase ‘Bailey boy’ to acquire more sympathy from Bailey, her son so that he can obey her requests. Bailey loves his mother so much that he tries to give in to her demands, thus forfeiting his family, which is his responsibility. He fails, therefore, to protect his family from Misfit’s henchmen, who go ahead and kill all his children, his wife, and himself. This is a betrayal on Bailey’s part, as men are considered to be accountable for the safety of their families and should do all they can to ensure they keep their families secure. The old lady is spiteful because of her deceitful attitude towards other people in the story, even her son. The grandmother betrays the family by causing the accident on their way to Florida since she did not want to go to Florida in the first place. She does this by kicking the cat, which lands on her son’s head and makes him to cause an accident.
The aspect of family betrayal is illustrated in the short story when the grandmother tries to lure her son Bailey into not moving to Florida out of her selfish interests; she wants to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee. She, therefore, tries to convince him slyly not to go to Florida. This is depicted by the statement,’ I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that is loose’ (O’Connor 52). The grandmother also informs the children’s father that they had already been to Florida and, therefore, a change in the environment would suit them. Her motive, in this case, is not to look out for her son and grandchildren, nor is it for their interest, but rather, it is to try to lure him into changing his mind about their trip to Florida, where she does not want to go. The son obeys his mother, and he pays the price of doing this by getting his family into an accident that his mother caused. The grandmother even leaps out of the car after the accident she has caused to avoid being reprimanded by her son. The grandmother causes more trouble for her family when she recognizes the Misfit, thus signing the death sentence for the whole family.
Red Sam and the grandmother’s conversation depicts betrayal in society. They both agree that the country was secure back in their days. People had, however, changed over time and become untrustworthy. Crime has increased, making the place so insecure that no one could leave their screen doors unlatched. Betrayal in their society had been caused by people’s selfishness, passion, and greed for wealth and power. Their discussion on the escape of Misfit also depicts a society that lives in fear of dangerous criminals who escape from prison and still go about performing their selfish and cruel crimes. The Misfit, in this case, is a man who does not fear the law or religion but instead finds contentment in killing people in cold blood.
The quote’ is still pinned to her head, but the broken brim standing up at a jaunty angle and violent spray hanging off the sideshows that her beliefs also began to fall apart just like she did (Flint et al. 19). The grandmother in the short story also betrays the Misfit by trying to show compassion towards him in the end only, but she had just realized that it was the only way to save her life. The grandmother goes as far as telling the Misfit that he is one of her children. This is because she has witnessed the death of all the other family members and wants the Misfit to spare her life. She flirts, lies, and begs to save herself from being killed by Misfit. She is desperate to save her life and avoid being eliminated, just like the other family members. In the beginning, the grandmother realizes that Misfit respects religion. According to her reasoning, if he saw that she was also plausible to believe, he would let her go. It is revealed that the Misfit is out for revenge, and though he does not find pleasure in killing people, he does it to repay for the years he was wrongfully put in prison for allegedly killing his father.
He confesses that he was once a good man, but he changed after being wrongfully accused. This is an aspect of betrayal by the Court officials against the Misfit, for they jailed him for no reason. The bitterness he had borne out of this had made him vengeful, thus the reason for his criminal acts against humanity. The grandmother is convinced that there is some good in him and takes advantage of the fact to try and save herself. However, this plan did not pull through as he still shot her in the end. The Misfit represents evil and callous people in society who enjoy inflicting pain on people. According to him, there is no pleasure in life, but it is not very meaningful, ‘He has good inside him but cannot perceive it” (O’Connor 24). Similar themes of betrayal and murderous intent are also depicted in Shakespeare’s Othello, which is a story told of a heartless man who enjoys inflicting others with pain and sorrow.
The heartless man causes deaths for no reason among people such as Emilia, Cassio, and Desdemona, who are but innocent in the story. The killer was once betrayed by a lover, which caused him so much pain that he killed people to seek revenge (Kyle et al. 427). A woman is also allowed to seek revenge on her attackers since her friend Titus was betrayed by men she seeks to rest her anger on (Anderson et al. 357). This is the same case with the Misfit, who felt betrayed by Court officials, maybe for their selfish interests, who accused him of killing his father and putting him behind bars. Thus, he becomes vengeful, which leads to his cruel nature against his fellow humans, killing them in cold blood.
Betrayal and murderous intent in “The Cask Of Amontillado” and “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” is caused by greed or selfish motives. It breeds bitterness and pain in the victim, who can resurface feelings of vengeance against those involved in hurting him. It does not necessarily lead to murderous intentions, but it makes the victim hate the betrayer. The analysis of the two stories shows that betrayal is a harsh, wounding action that leaves a long-lasting mark on those betrayed. It transforms people that were once pure-hearted and loving into devilish and self-conceited humans with murderous intentions.
Therefore, people must learn not to take any decisions hurriedly that will hurt them or any of those around them. After betrayal, one should also not resort to harming themselves since it makes the individual feel guilty. Victims of betrayal should remember that vengeance following betrayal often has far-reaching consequences and can affect innocent individuals. In other words, victims of betrayal should not allow themselves to make other people go through the same experiences they went through as this creates a cycle of betrayal and murder.
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