Jealousy and the Cask of Amontillado Essay

Pages: 4 (1462 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

Amontillado

Motive for Muder in 'Amontillado'

"No one attacks me with impunity," is the motto of the Montressor coat of arms -- at least, that is what Montressor, the narrator of "The Cask of Amontillado," confesses to Fortunato. But Montressor is a jester -- as illustrated by his joke when Fortunato makes a Masonic gesture: Montressor is baffled by it; Fortunato says, "Then you are not a Mason." Montressor says, "I am." Fortunato: "Prove it." Montressor produces a trowel from beneath his apron. Fortunato laughs -- unfortunately, it is a two-sided joke -- and the last laugh will be on Fortunato when Montressor uses the trowel to do a mason's work and seals the unfortunate Fortunato in his tomb. For "The Cask of Amontillado" is not a tale of wine -- it is a tale of revenge -- and that is the other joke Fortunato does not get: the pipe of wine is only a ploy to get the connoisseur into the vaults.

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Diana McHugh's essay, "The Destructive Effects of Jealousy," attempts to explain that jealousy is the motive of Montressor's actions -- but the reader must ask: of what is Montressor jealous? There is no evidence in "Amontillado" that the narrator is at all jealous of Fortunato. In fact, Montressor pays Fortunato his due when he describes him as one of the few Italians who actually possesses a grasp of what constitutes a good wine. Montressor, however, displays no jealousy in the compliment: for he knows he is just as much a connoisseur as Fortunato. All that is established in the description is the fact that the two share a bond over good wines. They are, in a sense, equals. McHugh suggests Montressor holds ill-will for Fortunato -- which he does. But is jealousy the reason? No, the reason Montressor is out to destroy Fortunato is precisely that Fortunato has insulted Montressor. Fortunato's insult -- which is given off-page -- has taken equality away from Montressor. McHugh misnames the motive for murder as jealousy, when the motive actually has more to do with Montressor's sense of injustice -- and, perhaps, his sensitive ego -- which McHugh aptly identifies as a quality both Montressor and Fortunato share.

Essay on Jealousy and the Cask of Amontillado Assignment

We learn little about Montressor -- his narrative is not forthcoming with many personal details. What he does reveal is that he is an Iago-type: a character whose "motiveless malignancy" drives him to destroy another. As Sarah Ruhl points out in her essay, "Six Small Thoughts on Fornes, the Problem of Intention, and Willfulness," it was Samuel Taylor Coleridge who identified this "motiveless malignancy." Ruhl explains how "none of Iago's trumped up excuses quite explain the intensity of his inborn hatred" (2001). In fact, the same can be said for Montresor. Both feel they have been wronged in some way: in Othello, Iago feels he has been passed over -- another appointed to the position he has desired; in "Amontillado," Montressor feels he has been insulted -- and no one attacks a Montressor without paying a price.

Perhaps all the bones in the wine cellar are the bones of enemies hitherto dispatched with by the ancient Montressor family.

At any rate, the reader is early let on to the degree of Montressor's malignancy: "It must be understood, that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good-will. I continued, as was my won't, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation." One feels as if Poe has just been reading Shakespeare, the similarity to the villain of Othello is so strong -- for just as Fortunato suspects nothing till it is too late -- so too Othello.

Perhaps, then, it is not so unusual when McHugh, places envy as the motive for Montressor's murderous deed. Although "Amontillado" is far too short a narrative for Poe's narrator to explore his motives -- the account is simply chronological from meeting to murder -- the narrative voice is so powerful and familiar, the reader is sure to recognize it as one that has occurred in literature before now. And it is true -- for it is the very voice of Iago -- now reincarnated in a 19th century American gothic. However, the setting is the same: Italy; and the plotting is, too: a tale of revenge. Therefore, why should… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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